Family and Relationships
What to Do with a Defiant Child
Michael Youssef, Ph.D.
May 20, 2023

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Parents who have been blessed with compliant children often can't understand the unique challenges the parents of a defiant child face. But there is good news: These defiant children have the potential to do great things for God.

Read Luke 15:11-32. The prodigal son—now, there was a defiant child. He wanted things to go his way in his time, so much so that he demanded his inheritance early. In the Jewish culture of Jesus' day, that would have been reason enough for the father to disown him. But that's not what the father does in this story. Instead, he gives his boy what he asked for, and he doesn't stand in his way.

The same stubbornness that defines many a defiant child is the same grit that will allow them to stand up for God.

As a parent or grandparent, you may be reeling at the thought. But the father in Jesus' story understood something about the heart of his strong-willed child: It's better to shape the will than break the spirit. That's because the same stubbornness that defines many a defiant child is the same grit that will allow them to stand up for God when many others sit down.

So, what is a parent with a strong-willed child to do? There are three strategies that can help moms and dads bring out the best in their hard-to-parent kids.

First, it's important to clarify the rules and then immediately enforce them. Defiant children need to know that actions have consequences. Despite their willfulness, these kids really do want their parents' guidance and protection.

Second, parents of strong-willed children must major on the majors. One of the marks of godly parenting is to focus on the inner life of the child rather than on outward appearance. Focus on things like honesty, compassion, and thankfulness, and choose your battles wisely.

Finally, strong-willed children need to be affirmed in tackling responsibilities that are constructive and helpful—so give them tasks beyond what you think they are capable of. In other words, give them opportunities to shine and exceed expectations.

It may be hard to believe, but a child's strong will can actually be a gift from God. Think again about the story of the prodigal son. In the end, which son understood the heart of the father? It was the one who was stubborn and reckless. But when his passions found their rightful home, he became a dedicated son and servant.

Prayer: Lord, give me Your patience, perspective, and strength as I parent my children. Whether they are strong-willed or compliant, help me to focus on the majors and be an example of Your love and grace. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).

Learn more in Dr. Michael Youssef's sermon series Parenting 911: LISTEN NOW | WATCH NOW