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On today’s “Ask Dr. Leman,” the question is raised: “Are parents really the cause of powerful children, or are powerful children just born that way?” Listen in to hear Dr. Leman’s clarification to a skeptical mother.


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Doug: So, Dr. Leman, you think you are so smart do you? Well, today we get to ask a question. Actually, a listener asks a question. “Is you right or is you wrong about powerful children come from a powerful parent?” That seems a little harsh to me, but at least that’s what the listener says. We get to ask Dr. Leman that question. Hi. I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: I’m Andrea.

Doug: We are so glad that you are with us. Really, like we are genuinely glad that you would take the time to invest in your children. Kudos to you. Great job. If it is your first time with us, we want to let you know this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you, or your child, please go seek a local professional for help. Today, this is one of the best questions we have ever, ever, ever been given to us, and it is someone, Grace, saying I think you are W-R-O-N-G Dr. Leman, and I am looking forward to her proving

Dr. Leman right. So, let’s jump into today’s question.

Grace: Hello Dr Leman, love your resources and appreciate the podcasts and books you’ve written. I would just like to get some more information on something I’ve heard you say a few times on your podcast, that if there is a powerful child then it was created by either the husband or the wife is authoritative in nature, or powerful themselves. In reading your book, Parenting a Powerful Child, you say that every family has one. So I’m just kind of curious as to, if that’s the case if there could be a family of several children but only one of the children is powerful is it the parents that created that? To me it seems like some children just are born with a stronger will, or more argumentative nature, than others?

Grace: It doesn’t sit well with me where I hear you say that it’s the parents that created the powerful child. To me that seems like some dispositions of children are just stronger, or harder to deal with, than others. Is it really the parents that created that in the way of their behavior, or is it true that some children are just more difficult than others? I’d just like to hear you expound on this, because the few times that I’ve heard it feels so defeating when it’s like the parents created the powerful child, where to me I’m thinking that some children are just harder to parent than others. What are your thoughts on that? Thanks.

Dr. Leman: Well, let me say that based on that buildup Mr. Terpening just gave us, I thought you were going to let us have it with both barrels, but I think you lived up to your name, Grace. You were very graceful. Here’s what you have to understand. I’m glad you’re reading that book, by the way. Let’s talk about dispositions and temperaments for just a second. Is it true that people are born with a temperament? Yes. People have different temperaments. Kids have different temperaments. Are kids more wired? Are they, … Well some people will say strong-willed. I want every child to be strong-willed, but you get my drift that, yeah, kids come with different dispositions. Some kids are very laid back. Some kids eat their meals like they’ve never seen food before, and others poke at it and take forever. Some are just pokey eaters. Everybody is different.

Dr. Leman: Given that, let’s go back to what fuels a powerful child. So let’s say a kid is … Well, we can use strong-willed. I think people understand what that means. You’ve got a strong-willed kid who tends to be maybe opinionated, but why when you say, “The sky is blue,” he says “It’s not blue, it’s actually a turquoise?” Why does he have to have the last word? Where does that come from?

Dr. Leman: See, I think kids develop a lifestyle, and by that I’m not talking about the car they drive someday, or the house they live in, or the clothes they wear. By lifestyle, how they look at life, “I only count life when I gain attention. When I put others in my service, when I’m in control, when I dominate, when I win.” I want to make the point with you, Grace, that I, in my 40 some years of doing this with families, have seen very powerful kids who come from seemingly very meek and mild parents, parents who at the surface do not seem powerful. In fact, they’re the ones that say, “Oh, listen, no, I don’t care. No, you take the Turkey breast, I’ll just have the Turkey neck. I’m fine.” They are the nicest people in the world. They would give you the shirt off of their back, but in that softness of that personality, there’s a point where that person knows exactly how things ought to be done. I believe that people, adults, …

Dr. Leman: I stand on my statement. Are there exceptions to things in psychology and behavior? There are plenty of exceptions, so to say, this is lockstep 100% would be foolish of me to say, okay. Maybe that’s the reason why you called in, because that’s what you appear me to be saying. There’s exceptions to everything, but clearly across the board powerful children learn to be powerful. It’s dominance, it’s winning, it’s “I dominated.” It’s not we, it’s not you, it’s all about me, and that behavior itself is a learned behavior, and they learn it from a powerful parent.

Dr. Leman: Again, just keep in mind when I said. Some powerful parents on the surface are very sweet and, like I say, they’re very giving and they’re soft spoken, but cross them and see what happens. Take a measurement of their stubbornness. Are they people who sees things in just black and white terms and gray is not available to their sight? Across the board … Again, I’m going to stand on that statement, if you have a powerful child, there’s a powerful parent nearby. Or, we could go to a grandfather or an uncle, someone who had a profound impact on that kid’s life.

Dr. Leman: Power is set up where a child sees weakness in someone around them, so they could even see weakness in a parent and take advantage of that and create a powerful situation. There are situations where a parent could be so weak and so loosey-goosey, for lack of a better term, that a kid just sees the opportunity to take over and voraciously devours the parent because the parent has not had standards, but I don’t think you’ll see a powerful child overtake parents who have firm guidelines in their life. That’s why we preach on our podcast to be firm, have limits, expect the best of your kids.

Dr. Leman: I don’t know how much I needed to defend myself on that. I don’t think a great deal. Keep in mind that all families are different, all kids are different. I’ll give you all that, but the reality is if you have a powerful child the way to deal with that child is not in a powerful way, because you will spawn more power in the child by just being powerful. So, the techniques that you will read, Grace, in parenting your powerful child will help you sidestep the powerful moves that your son or daughter is making in your home. Well, Andrea and Doug, what do you think?

Andrea: Well, I was just wondering, one of the last things you said was sometimes power is set up when a child sees weakness in someone around them, and I was wondering if a super-permissive parent, are they powerful at all or are they just maybe in that sense the weak person that’s letting that child take over?

Dr. Leman: That’s an interesting observation because some people are so, … I don’t want to disparage Fred Rogers. I love Mr. Rogers, but some people are just so gentle spirited that a kid for whatever reason will see, and maybe this goes back to temperament, that there’s a need to walk in and walk over and use that parent. The parent not feeling good about themselves and feeling like they have to acquiesce to their powerful child, they have to, becomes fair prey for that child. I mean, you do see situations like that once in a while. It’s unusual to find both parents who are that laid back. It’s much more common to find one parent who is much stronger than the other. So, I don’t know, it’s an interesting question. I’ve never claimed to have all the answers to life, and this is one that people could debate till the cows come home.

Doug: What I hear, the theme throughout all of this is, whatever subject we’re talking about is you’re saying, “Your kids are an outcome of what you are doing.” You just said something very interesting there at the end that I want to explore is that if you don’t feel good about yourself you’re going to parent in a bad way. How important is that last statement when you said, “If we don’t feel good about ourselves we’re liable to create powerful children around us?” Can you connect the dots on those two things for us?

Dr. Leman: If you don’t feel well about yourself, you’re going to allow people to take advantage of you. Let’s start with some basics about kids. They’re hedonistic little suckers, all of them. They don’t come out with any social interest. They don’t care about anybody else. We have a grandchild right now where everything is mine. Mine, it’s mine. It’s a stage, it’s part of growing up. So, we help shape the kids in the direction that we think would be productive, and healthy, and all that. But again, God loved us enough to give us all free will. We get to choose to do, and act, like we want to. But what I’m saying is that the environment, that is the environment that all of us grew up in which is basically our family, shaped our spirit, our personality, how we view life. I’ve said many times, power in a child did not come from drinking the water that we serve in our home. It came from behavioral interactions with those that are closest to us. I don’t know if that sheds any light on that or not.

Doug: Yeah, it totally does. It’s the hard reality that I created it. Now, a no-nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: One of the questions I get, especially when I’m talking about teenagers. I wrote that book. It’s a widely acclaimed book, bestselling book, called I’ll Have a New Teenager by Friday. If you’ve never read that book, that is a good one. If you’ve got kids a little younger in the hormone group, read Planet Middle School. Both of those are excellent, excellent reads with all kinds of things in there that you may not think of very readily. People love those books, and they’re very, very well rated and received. But, I get questions about, “When do I let my son or my daughter pick out their own clothes, buy their own clothes?” Well, wait a minute, you’re jumping ahead. When are kids really interested in clothes? My experience has been when they get close to the hormone group, especially the girls, they get very interested in clothes. I know some are earlier, but the majority of them it’s that time when they’re starting to notice that there’s two distinct sexes in this world where clothes become a big thing.

Dr. Leman: Here’s the question for you, parent. What kind of dominion did you give to the kids when they were young? When did you start an allowance? See, I think before you have that conversation you have to give yourself a little gut check and say, “Wait a minute, did I use an allowance effectively when my kids were growing up? Did they have a set amount of money that they could spend any way they wanted?” See, without any training I think just handing a kid money and saying, “Here, let’s get your school clothes,” could have some rather disastrous results for you. I’m not saying you can’t do that, but I’m saying after the disastrous results, you’re probably going to come back and do things differently.

Dr. Leman: I think it’s a great idea to give kids cash, to go at the beginning of the school year and talk with your kids about, “Hey, we’ve tried to budget this as best we can. Here’s the money that you have to spend.” Give the kid a wad of those 20s. They’re going to feel like they’re a millionaire when they see all that money and, yeah, you can just turn them loose at age 14, or 13, and they can go out and see what they come home with, or I think the better way of doing it is go with them, go with them and keep your mouth shut as best you can. That’s my advice.

Dr. Leman: A kid is going to figure out he can buy this shirt that has this little insignia on it and it’s going to cost him three times what this plain shirt is going to cost him. Now this gets into kids, and style, and you want to be like everybody else and, boy, I hope your kids don’t want to be like everybody else. That’s not a good thing. But my point is, let them figure out, let them become a smart shopper. Let them figure out that Walmart jeans are not that bad. Do you know what I’m saying? Let them figure out how to stretch that budget. If it’s clear to them that this is all you have to get school clothes with, including shoes, they might just really surprise you and make some really wise decisions. Then, your part in that is just to say, “Honey, I am so proud of you. I think those were great choices you made.”

Doug: Dr. Leman, when we have to face the reality that all of a sudden there’s a powerful child in our presence what have you seen it take for the adult to be able to say, “I created that. I have to change.” Is there something that helps people get that light bulb moment?

Dr. Leman: Well, just try a few simple things and see if this works, parents. Next time you’re tempted to get into a fight, an argument, or say, “No, that isn’t so,” with your son or your daughter just look at them and go, “Wow, you could be right,” and see what happens. See if the fight continues or does that dissipate it into thin air? Learn to say things differently. Learn to behave differently. “Wow, you could be right. Wow, I never thought of it that way. Now there’s an interesting thought. Why didn’t I think of that? Oh my goodness. Well, tell me more about that, Honey.”

Dr. Leman: Your son or daughter has just suggested that they do something they know that you’re not going to let them do, and you say, “Well, wow, that sounds interesting, tell me more about that.” You’ve just knocked them off their blocks. They’re not going to start the race. They’re dumbfounded. What did he say? I was expecting a completely different answer. What I’m saying is learn to sit and listen to your kids, parents, without judgment, without judgment. That’s the tough part. Some of you as parents think that that’s fruit of the spirit given to you by Almighty God. I’m here to tell you, you got to listen to your kids. They’re kids. Are they going to say stupid things? Yes. Are they going to do stupid things? Yes. Call your insurance agent, they’ll tell you. They’re like Farmers Insurance, “We know a few things because we’ve seen a few things.”

Doug: Which of the books would you recommend if somebody’s sitting there going, “Okay, Dr. Lehman, I don’t know if I really am a parent that’s the problem creating this but I might be.” Which of your books would you say that would help them be able to see it and have solutions?

Dr. Leman: Well I think the Birth Order Book is a primmer book for Leman. It talks about family systems and relationships, and you’ll get to be behind the eyes of not only your spouse and yourself but also your children, and explains why they’re so different, why one turns left and one turns right. That’s probably the best overall book to start with. Those other books that we talked about so frequently, Have a New Kid, Have a New Teenager, Planet Middle School, The Leadership Book, The Way of the Shepherd, The Way of the Wise. You got a kid that’s going away to college and you haven’t tucked The Way of the Wise in their backpack, wow, what an opportunity, because it gives kids a little different look at what walking the Christian faith is all about. Anyway, life ain’t perfect, folks, and you and I aren’t perfect, but we’re going to give it our best shot. We’re going to tell our kids the truth. We’re going to hold them accountable. We’re going to talk straight with them, and they’re going to know that they’re loved no matter what. That’s a pretty good formula for most things.

Doug: Yeah, and as a former reformed powerful authoritarian parent the thing that I love about Dr. Leman’s books for me, it may not be for you, but for me was it was easy to read, so I didn’t feel like I was being beat up on, and there was things I could put and hold onto and begin to change. It was really interesting to me that I didn’t apply everything but I really love what you said, “If you just get the concepts and just add one little change, it’s amazing how then the next one’s easier, and the next one, and next one,” and before you know it you’re like, “Hey, I have changed,” and it really is encouraging.

Doug: So, it’s the reason we’re doing this podcast, honestly is because we want to help you guys enjoy your kids more, and more, and more. It’s why we do it and these books are so easy and practical and helpful. Please, please, please do it for your sake. Not for mine, doesn’t help Andrea and I, but it will help you. Okay, enough of my preaching for the day. I love you guys, and the reason we’re doing this is that we want you to have the tools to love those kids more and more, not for a year but for decades as you become grandma and grandpa someday, and all those things. That’s why we do it. Do it for yourself, not for Andrea, not for me, but for yourself. Alrighty. Well, we love being with you and we look forward to the next time we get to be with you.

Andrea: Have a good week.

Doug: Take care.

Andrea: Bye-bye.

Doug: Bye.