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.

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

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About The Author

Dr. Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

Even before he was born, it is clear that God had a vision for Michael Youssef. His mother was in poor health when she became pregnant with Michael, and because his life was in danger at the time of birth, the doctor recommended terminating the pregnancy. An abortion was scheduled. But God intervened and sent the family pastor to reassure them that God was involved in this pregnancy. He told them not to be afraid and that the child would be "born to serve the Lord." Michael's parents accepted the pastor's message as a message from God and obeyed. His mother gave birth, and lived to see him give his life to the Lord at the age of sixteen.

Believing that God had called him out of Egypt, Michael sought an exit visa in a time in which no university student was allowed to have a passport or leave the country. God intervened again, and miraculously he managed to acquire a visa. He immigrated to Australia, where he studied at Moore Theological College in Sydney, was ordained as a pastor, and met Elizabeth who became his wife.

The Youssefs came to America in 1977, and in 1978 Michael received a master's degree in theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. Then he earned a doctorate in social anthropology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Michael served nearly ten years in the Haggai Institute, traveling around the world more than 32 times, teaching courses in evangelism and leadership. He rose to the position of Managing Director at the age of 31 years. The family settled in Atlanta, and in 1984, Michael became a citizen of the United States, making his dream of many years come true.

He founded The Church of The Apostles in 1987 with fewer than 40 adults with the mission of "Equipping the Saints and Searching for the Lost". The church has since grown to be a congregation of over 3,000 people today. This church has driven the international ministry of Leading the Way. While it is heard by millions at home and abroad, behind every message preached through radio waves, is the heart of a pastor, willing to nurture and care for these people. Clearly God has uniquely equipped Dr. Youssef to speak to a global audience. The path he has taken has given him an understanding and firm grasp of the Scriptures that transcend cultures. He preaches, teaches and calls with a sincere, based on the authority of the inerrant, inspired Word of God. With his personal knowledge of the Holy Land, its history and culture, Dr. Michael Youssef transmits life to listeners all over the world.

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