I am the parent of a very strong-willed two and a half year old little girl. I’ve known since she was a teeny little baby that I’d have my work cut out for me. But, here’s the thing; it’s tough, and we have power struggles all the time, but I am determined to resist the urge to break her will. I’m on journey with this emotive strong-willed little girl. The character I see in her at two would make for a strong and independent woman. She is fierce, strong-willed, persistent, determined, stubborn and challenging, but deep down I love it. She is everything I want her to be in 16 years. I cannot and will not break that. I’m learning as I go how to deal with this fierce little human, and I make up rules as I go along. For anyone who is lucky enough to be a parent of strong-willed child, here are some tips that I’ve found helpful on my parenting journey (and by all means, if you have tips, please share them. I am a firm believer in the “village” philosophy.)
- Offer choices– A lot of people, myself included, cooperate more willingly and efficiently when given a choice, rather than an order. I.e.: My child loves to argue about going to bed, but she also loves bedtime stories. When she argues about bedtime, I usually say, “it is bedtime and that is non-negotiable. Would you like to read Huggle Buggle Bear or Danny the Dinosaur?
- Be wary of punishment and instead foster your parent child relationship – If you know me or have read some of my previous blogs, you know I don’t spank and I believe in positive parenting. This is in part, because I parent a strong-willed child. Like most adults, kids also get caught up in the heat of the moment. It is so hard to have teachable moments when your child is enraged. If I am upset about something and feel I have been treated unjustly, I am not in a good position to listen or learn. Most humans are not, because they are too focused on injustice. My experience has been that I can correct bad behavior so much more efficiently, by modeling good behavior and calmly talking to my child. When I do this, she is great listener and I have her full attention. I can then set expectations, limits and rules.
- Respect isn’t just for adults – The strong-willed person wants to be treated respectfully. Equality is very important to the strong-willed person (notice I said person and not child) and having their voice heard is important. Always take the time to understand why your child is upset, even if it seems silly. Mutual respect is important for the strong-willed. I.e. My two year old was upset, because I wouldn’t let her bring a backpack full of toys to day care. She was crying and acting out, so I had her tell me exactly why she wanted to bring it. She wanted to share with her friends. I told her that I was proud of her for being so generous and kind, but that it wasn’t a good idea to bring all of our toys, because they might get lost or misplaced. She understood that immediately and the struggle was over.
- Keep a positive end goal in sight – Again, my child, like most humans responds well in a positive environment. Focus on the positive and focus on what you CAN do, as opposed to CANNOT. This morning, my two year old didn’t want to go to day care and was crying, because she wanted her daddy. This is a legitimate want/need. My little girl loves her daddy unconditionally and being away from us while we work, can be tough. So instead of saying daddy is at work you can’t see him right now, I said, let’s go to school and have a great day with our friends. When you get home tonight you can spend time with daddy, and we will do something fun. Then we talked about all of the fun things we could do after school.
- Give them freewill over their body –This one is HUGE for us. I won’t have power struggles over certain things like clothes, food, etc. I will set expectations, like not allowing pajamas to be worn to school, but if she is hell bent on wearing butterfly pants and a top with hearts, then so be it (she wouldn’t, because she is crazy about matching, seriously, pj’s must match perfectly). This winter, I stopped forcing her to put her jacket on. We should all know the cold cannot give us a cold and she’s smart enough to realize when the cold makes her uncomfortable and guess what, she’ll put the jacket on then. The same goes for food. When I make dinner, the expectation is set that this is dinner. If you choose not to eat it, that is your choice, but eventually you will be hungry. I refuse to battle over this kind of stuff and eminently she learns that choices can have consequences.
The list of tactics and guiding principles could go on, but for my family, these are the big ones. We’re not a family without expectations and limits, but I don’t believe in an authoritative approach to parenting, and I want to foster my child’s personality and our relationship. I’m not permissive by any means, I have just found different ways to encourage cooperation. These tips help me be an efficient parent to my strong-willed child, without breaking her down. I want her to be this way, yes, it can be tough at times, but she’s going to make one hell of a woman someday.
Are you the parent of a strong-willed child? What helps you be efficient and encourage cooperation?