Strong-Willed Child or Dreamer? 1-3

A while back a friend bought this book by Drs. Braund and Spears and told me about it, and I ended up buying one for myself.

The nutshell version is that a lot of Christian parenting resources distinguish between the strong-willed child and the compliant child, but there’s at least a third personality type: dreamers are just as stubborn as the strong-willed child, but they’re also sensitive, more interested in meaning than in power, and therefore require different handling.

I’m pretty sure I fit that mold. Intense (you’re so dramatic — you’re overreacting), willful (you’re intimidating, you demand too much (from self and others)), and sensitive (you’re reading too much into things, or can’t you take a joke). I cared about other people’s approval, but rarely felt the need to change myself to win or keep it.

I’m pretty sure Amy fits rather well, too.

So I’m going to flip through the book again some more and write about some of the things it has to say.


The first chapter opens with three girls reacting completely differently to correction from their dance teacher, who said they were too close together. One ignores the correction and dances beautifully. One complies with the correction but her focus on compliance made her dance stiffly. The third stops dancing altogether, convinced the teacher hates her, and therefore hating the teacher right back. When the teacher tells her to “participate or leave the floor” and a classmate asks “what’s the matter with you,” she feels even worse, wondering why everyone is blaming her.

Personality matters — cognitive style, part of personality, matters — you can have kids showing the same behavior for very different reasons, or, like in the dance class, different behavior in response to the same event.

The third child “is one of the millions of dreamers who are neither pleasers nor power seekers and who often feel misunderstood” (6).

“[L]ack of communication between dreamers and doers results in personal pain and conflict… the dreamer seems to be the most dramatically affected by conflict and misunderstandings… In contrast, when parents make a commitment to enter the world of a dreamer child, there can be many rewards” (8).

“In the mind of a dreamer, his behavior is rarely defiant; it has a meaningful and logical root” (9).

“In the coming chapters, we will first describe in detail how dreamers think and feel and then explore ways you can bless them by being an active listener and an advocate for positive change” (13) — i.e. how that third child could conclude from the teacher’s correction that “she hates me!”


The second chapter begins with “the buffalo and birds analogy.” Buffalo look at the ground and thunder along practically. Fences can keep them safe from dangers they might otherwise ignore. Birds have to fly and will resist being pulled to earth. Dreamers “can feel as if they risk being destroyed when the limits are too rigid. [They] feel a desperate need to survive with emotions and imagination undefiled by the earth” (14-15; emphasis mine).

This desperation is hard for non-dreamers to understand — it sometimes comes across as illogical at best and hypersensitively melodramatic at worst.

The strong-willed can get sucked into “power at all costs,” and the compliant into “peace at all costs,” and the dreamer’s extreme would be “purpose at all costs.” Purpose is a lot harder to measure and evaluate, so dreamers are especially susceptible to second-guessing and doubting themselves.

You can see how a parent needs to respond one way to the kid who resists a chore or task because they care more about power even when they see the purpose of the chore, and a different way to the kid who doesn’t see the purpose of the chore and couldn’t care less about power.

One typical characteristic of a dreamer is a big picture view of the world, with a corresponding “lack of awareness of concrete details” (17). This is one way in which I don’t fit the mold — I’m nearly excessively detail-oriented and sometimes have a hard time arriving at a big picture view of a situation. On the other hand, I also tend to make flying connections between things no one else would imagine were related, and I can’t care about details when the big picture is messed up — get the meaning and purpose straightened out, and then the details start to matter.

Amy might have that lack of attention to detail — or she might just be four.

One of the authors says “I had an internal need to be appreciated by others but had a stubborn streak that resisted conforming… it seemed that I thought more like the compliant diplomat internally and externally acted in a manner more associated with the strong-willed driver” (18).

There’s some anecdotes about funny things dreamers do — one made me think of Amy. A kid who was very attached to her dolls tiptoed at night into her parents’ room and put a doll on each of their pillows, to help them sleep.

The chapter closes by reminding us that kids may look one way on the outside, but you have to know what’s going on inside in order to know how best to respond to them — just like knowing the difference between raw, empty, and hard-boiled eggs, which isn’t obvious at first glance.


The third chapter starts out telling us how dreamers can confuse others, and how if such confusion leads others to disapprove or lose interest, dreamers withdraw — sometimes thinking about revenge, sometimes thinking about how to bring about change.

Dreamers, in turn, can misunderstand the good intentions of those who don’t understand them.

Dreamer idealism can make it hard for dreamers to adjust to unmet expectations or changes in plans. It can even lead to despair when a dreamer realizes the limits of her control over reality.

Dreamers interpret everything personally. You might be setting a rule, but he thinks you’re trying to hurt him. He’s always trying to figure out, from everything that goes on, whether so-and-so likes him, and if he thinks the answer is no, he dislikes so-and-so defensively. Oy, this resonates for me.

Dreamers think everyone can tell how they’re feeling — they will more likely think that you’re disregarding or disrespecting their feelings than that you might not know what they’re feeling.

Dreamers vividly imagine not only ideals, but disasters.

Their emotions can swing wildly as a result. They want tolerance for their own moods, but can have difficulty tolerating others’ moods. They may not understand how their emotions influence their decisions and behavior. It can take a lot of time for a dreamer to understand their behavior and feelings in a given situation — like the dance class incident.

Dreamers rely heavily on intuition — there’s some danger in that but it’s by no means all bad.

They’re very attentive to abstract details like facial expressions.

Stubbornness from a dreamer might just be stubbornness, but parents and others should consider whether there’s something else going on — if the dreamer feels misunderstood or disliked, for example, she’s more likely to be stubborn.

It might take a bazooka to stop a robot warrior — strong-willed kids can emotionally withstand a lot of correction — but that kind of approach with a dreamer can “lead to a deep sense of personal failure” and scars (31).

Dreamers tend to develop an internal perfectionism — if they can’t imagine themselves doing something well enough, they won’t even try. This is like Amy at three telling me in frustration that she doesn’t draw well. Or giving up so quickly even when she does try something new. Internal perfectionism is about meeting your own standards — external perfectionists keep working, carefully, thoughtfully, systematically, until they get it right — internal perfectionists, when they try it at all, are more likely to rip up their attempt if it’s not right on the first effort. The more important something feels to a dreamer, the more likely they’ll freeze.

This chapter has the descriptive checklist to help identify a dreamer — I think Amy meets 26 of the 30 items.

Again, the authors state that “dreamers have intentions and needs that contradict their overt behavior… [but they] don’t know that their cognitive style isn’t the same as everyone else’s. They think that you should be able to see their logic plainly.

And they finish by saying dreamers need “constant affirmation, gentle discipline, a listening ear, and understanding” (36).


12 thoughts on “Strong-Willed Child or Dreamer? 1-3

  1. That seems eerily familiar. The difference being, I guess, that I’ve been aware that I’m dreamer and that others don’t think like me for quite a while. Realized the second part first, probably early in high school, and the former a little later.

    I might justhave to gets copy of this book. May not have any children of my own, but, of course, I do spend most my time raising other folks’ kids…

  2. That’s how I felt when I heard about the book, too. I remember being on the bus in third grade and realizing that I was “aware,” whatever that meant to me at that age.

  3. I really liked this post. As a dreamer myself, I can relate to it. The last sentence really hit me: “And they finish by saying dreamers need “constant affirmation, gentle discipline, a listening ear, and understanding” (36).” So true. Seems like the type A people can just push to want they want to do by sheer will and drive alone. But it isn’t about dreams for them – it seems like more about control and will – more of a blunt force thing. Dreamers are usually dealing with things much bigger than they articulate and the encouragement and affirmation just keep the flow coming.

    I’m also reminded of the section in the book “The Artist’s Way” which talks about the constant flack that creative people get for “not being realistic”, to “come back to reality” or to “get their feet on the ground.” But, to an artist or dreamer, that world in their head is very often more real than the tangible one, and breaking from it completely can destroy a life. I always remember the George Carlin quote, “Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist”. Dreamers need people who will let their dreams fly, while keeping them tethered gently to the world of the mundane.

  4. Have you ever read Howards End? You might like it. A lot of interesting characters and relationships and musings about such things as whether or not the world really needs businesspeople (the character who muses concludes in the affirmative). Likewise Death Comes for the Archbishop — one priest practical and fiery and active, the other meditative, both equally devoted and important to the mission, and important to one another.

  5. Pingback: Strong-Willed Child or Dreamer: 4 « Becoming Three

  6. I really enjoyed your post. I believe that my middle son and I are both dreamers as well. Have you taken the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator?

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  8. Is there a follow up book for adult “Dreamers”? I found your post after seeing the cover of the mentioned book at my local library. I am tempted to read the book but I am in my mid 20s and don’t know how much of it will help me now.

    I feel very happy to have found this post as well as the book.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you.

    • I don’t know about any follow up books. Since this one is at your library, it wouldn’t cost you anything more than time to take a look at it — and working through some of the stuff about when you were a kid might well be fruitful.

      • I really hope they come up with a follow-up for this. For now I will read the book once it is available again. Thanks.

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