Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Strong Willed Child, Limit Testing, and Why Giftedness Matters

The Strong Willed Child, Limit Testing, and Why Giftedness Matters?

When most people hear the word gifted, they often think in terms of academic achievement and high scores on standardized tests or the externally motivated, high achiever, perfectionist.  They don't usually think in terms of the strong willed child or the limit testing that gifted or 2e kids can do.

Not every child who is gifted is strong willed and not every strong willed child is gifted.  However, being strong willed (aka stubborn) is a characteristic of being gifted or 2e.  I'd say it's more a marker than any standardized test.  And, let's face it.  How many strong willed kids are never identified as being gifted or 2e because they, well, don't cooperate, aren't willing to please others, or score high enough on standardized academic achievement tests to be identified as gifted or 2e???   Probably many.  And that's a travesty because these kids have so very much to offer once you figure out what makes them tick and can see the strong willed for what it is:  a gift (one, not always cherished by parents admittedly).

Who are these kids and how do you know you have one?  Why does this combination of being strong willed, limit testing, and giftedness matter so much?  Well, for one, these kids are challenging and are often labelled as __(fill in the blank here with your favorite term or mis/diagnosis) by parents, siblings, schools, doctors, specialists, therapists, and other professionals.  To put it mildly, they're not exactly a barrel of laughs to live with.  The outbursts or tornado explosives can be daily and equivalent to a gale force five.  Handle with care and the warning 'detonative material' would not go amiss.  In a word, these kids are:   INTENSE.

The carrot and stick approach doesn't work here.  Rewards and punishments don't really either.  Forget the behavior chart or much of anything in terms of what works with more compliant children.  The strong willed child may indeed do algebra at home within nanoseconds and without any prompting or input from you, but be the same child who refuses to cooperate with being tested and pretends to barely add or subtract with their fingers with a standardized test.  You don't know if you should laugh, scream, kill the kid, or do all or nothing in the end.

The strong willed child may tell a teacher that they don't need them or anyone else to learn because they simply can do it on their own accord.  They beat to a different drum.  They're intrinsically motivated.  Standard methods of motivating a child do not apply here.  If they're not invested or see the benefits in cleaning their room or brushing their teeth, then they're not motivated to do anything.

Most significantly, the word no does not mean much to these kids.  The word no could mean yes or maybe to them.  It could be misinterpreted with your voice and demeanor.  To them, if you didn't spell out the bottom, repercussions, or consequences then you could say no numerous times to these kids but nothing sinks in or matters.

These kids often learn by doing and/or natural consequences.  Firm limits and action are often better rather than words.  Say what you mean, mean what you say and carry through with action.

And then, there's the questioning.  These kids seem to question everything.  They question your authority and every adult they encounter.  And numerous times per day, every day, every week, every month, every year.  There can be no end to their questioning of authority, of rules.  The police.  Yes, even the police, they question their authority.  Who put them in charge anyway and who made up these stinking rules?  And who would be in their right mind to agree or submit to them?

Put simply, these kids are often regarded as the defiant, rebellious, resistant, noncompliant, nonconformist, oppositional ones.  They do not represent the 90% of kids in public schools who want to please the teacher and comply with what is being asked.  And yet, ask many public school teachers who they would rather have: a complaint, cooperative, bright, high achieving, perfectionist child or a noncompliant, uncooperative, bright, under achieving child.  Many times, they'll say the later because they can see the spark, the potential.

The real differences though, I think, with a gifted child who is strong willed (and this depends on the level of giftedness, of course, and any other factors or special needs), are the levels of persistence, intensity, and amplitude with their behavior.  Nonetheless, these kids are born leaders and original thinkers and not simply followers.  With time, these kids may be more amenable and receptive to being a temporarily, or at least tolerate it, but it's not in their nature, or nurture, to follow.

Some of the greatest minds and talented people were strong willed children once.  And somehow, they lived and survived.  That's not to say it was easy or wasn't World War III at times at home or with un/homeschooling for you.  Can you imagine being the parent/s of Steve Jobs?

There are many books and websites that cover strong willed children.  Pick up one of the latest books, Setting Limits with your Strong-Willed Child by Robert MacKenzie, at your local public library and grin at the references to limit testing being described as data collecting and researching like I did.  If nothing else, you'll see that being strong willed is actually normal and that your child may be within the range of normal too.

This is part of the Gifted Homeschooling Forum's Blog Hop on Why Giftedness Matters?


  1. "You don't know if you should laugh, scream, kill the kid, or do all or nothing in the end." Oh dear. Every day. :)

  2. I needed to have read this article earlier today when I was ready to pull my hair out.

  3. Thank you for this post. I have one of these strong willed children. I always say I need a decent night of sleep, a pot of coffee, and a prayer each day in order to keep up with him (and not put him up for auction). I know, in the end, it will be worth it. A strong will, channeled appropriately, is in itself a gift.

  4. We hope to raise children who will be life long autonomous learners and independent thinkers but these children are certainly not easy to parent or to teach!