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Focus on the Family

Published: Saturday April 5, 2014 MYT 7:55:00 AM
Updated: Friday April 11, 2014 MYT 6:42:41 PM

Understanding the nature of children

Nature vs nurture: Children are born with different temperaments.- Photo AFP

Nature vs nurture: Children are born with different temperaments.- Photo AFP

I have two children who are as different as night and day. In fact, they conform perfectly to your description of the “strong-willed” and “compliant” children. One is a spitfire, the other is a sweetheart. I am very interested in knowing more about what this means for them long-term. Beyond everyday issues of discipline and relating within a family, what can you tell me about these kids?

You’ll be interested to know that more than 35,000 parents participated in a study I conducted to answer those specific questions. It is described in detail in my book Parenting Isn’t for Cowards, but let me boil down 11 of the most important findings. Remember that these conclusions represent common traits and characteristics that may or may not apply to your two children. These descriptions represent what typically happens with strong-willed children (SWC) and very compliant children (CC) as the years unfold.

Conclusion 1: In the human family, there are nearly three times as many SWCs as CCs. Nearly every family with multiple children has at least one SWC.

Conclusion 2: Male SWCs outnumber females by about 5%, and female CCs outnumber males by about 6%. Thus, there is a slight tendency for males to have tougher temperaments and for females to be more compliant, but it can be, and often is, reversed.

Conclusion 3: The birth order has nothing to do with being strong-willed or compliant. These elements of temperament are basically inherited and can occur in the eldest or in the baby.

Conclusion 4: Most parents know they have an SWC very early. One-third can tell it at birth. Two-thirds know by the first birthday, and 92% are certain by the third birthday. Parents of compliant children know it even earlier.

Conclusion 5: The temperaments of children tend to reflect those of their parents. Although there are many exceptions, two strong-willed parents are more likely to produce tough-minded kids and vice-versa.

Conclusion 6: What can parents expect from SWCs in the teen years? The answer? A battle! Fully 74% of SWCs rebel significantly during adolescence.

Conclusion 7: Incredibly, only 3% of CCs experience severe rebellion in adolescence, and just 14% even go into mild rebellion. They start out life with a smile on their face and keep it there into young adulthood.

Conclusion 8: The best news for parents of SWCs is the rapid decrease in their rebellion in young adulthood. It drops almost immediately in the early twenties and then trails off even more from there. Some are still angry into their twenties and early thirties, but the fire is gone for the majority. They peacefully rejoin the human community.

Conclusion 9: The CC is much more likely to be a good student than the SWC. Nearly three times as many SWCs made Ds and Fs during the last two years of high school as did CCs. Approximately 80% of CCs were A and B students.

Conclusion 10: The CC is considerably better adjusted socially than the SWC. It would appear that the youngster who is inclined to challenge the authority of his parents is also more likely to behave offensively with his peers.

Conclusion 11: The CC typically enjoys much higher self-esteem than the SWC. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this finding. Only 19% of compliant teenagers either disliked themselves (17%) or felt extreme hatred (2%). Of the very strong-willed teenagers, however, 35% disliked themselves, and 8% experienced extreme self-hatred.

Those were the primary findings from our study. It yielded a picture of the compliant child as being someone more at peace with himself or herself, as well as with parents, teachers and peers.

The strong-willed child, by contrast, seems compelled from within to fuss, fight, test, question, resist, and challenge. Why is he or she like that? It is difficult to say, except to affirm that they are more unsettled in every aspect of their lives. We do know that lower self-esteem is related to the excessive peer dependency, academic difficulties, social problems, and even rebellion we have seen. Acceptance of one’s intrinsic worth is the core of the personality. When it is unsteady, everything else is affected.

This article was published with permission from Focus on the Family Malaysia.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Lifestyle, Focus on the Family; Parenting; Family

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