I had a reader ask me for some tips on dealing with a Strong-Willed-Child after reading my post about my daughter (you can find that post here.) I could probably write ten posts on this subject and over time, I probably will. But for now, I’m just going to give a few pointers off the top of my head. I will expand on these points in upcoming posts.
If you have an SWC (Strong-Willied-Child) there are many different ideas out there for how to handle the struggles that go with that. You will get advice (like it or not) from parents, in-laws, teachers, the little old lady in the grocery store, etc. Let me be clear, I don’t have all the answers…by a long shot! But I have learned a few things along the way so here goes:
1. Plan your responses ahead of time. Waiting until the heat of “battle” to make a decision about how you’re going to discipline your SWC is asking for trouble. I had the most success when we had clearly defined consequences for disobedience, etc. Having a plan that both you and your child are familiar with helps you to avoid being too emotional about the situation. It avoids escalation, which is a tool that SWC’s use to wear us down and get their way. (I used a “turn-a-card” system that I adapted from one that my son’s kindergarten teacher used in the classroom. More on that in my next post.)
For example, establishing ahead of time with your 4-year-old that if she hits her brother she will go to her room for 4 minutes makes it very easy to follow through in the event she actually hits her brother. There is no need for discussion. She goes to her room. If you don’t have consequences already set up, you might react in anger or frustration and you’re much more likely to be inconsistent.
2. Let them make choices and allow natural consequences. SWC’s like to control their environment and they do not like to be told what to do. So, use their desire to control to your advantage. For example, if your 6-year-old doesn’t want to wear his coat but you know he will be cold, tell him it’s his choice. I’d say something like, “I’m not going to make you wear your coat, but it’s cold outside and I think you should. If you choose not to and you’re cold when we go outside, I don’t want to hear complaining. You will just have to be cold. It’s your choice.”
When they have to make the decision, often they will make the right choice but when they don’t, let them suffer the natural consequences. This works way better than asserting your (rightful) authority and making them wear the coat. They need to see that their choices have consequences and it’s much better that they learn this at a young age when the stakes are small. This is a “pick your battles” kind of thing. There are some situations in which you will want to put your foot down. So pick the ones that aren’t so important and give your SWC some choice in those matters.
3. Don’t take it personally. This one’s hard. Because we do take it personally when our flesh and blood behaves like a raving lunatic. But we only torture ourselves and make the situation ten times worse when we do that. It’s vitally important that you distance your personal feelings from your child’s behavior. Stop worrying about what people will think of you when your child behaves badly because that causes you to react out of embarrassment and you will probably not make the best discipline choices. (I’m not saying people won’t judge you. They will. But who cares?! They obviously have only compliant children at home ;))
When your child throws a tantrum or acts rude or disobeys you, it is not a personal attack and it is not a failure on your part. Kids (especially the strong-willed ones) will make mistakes. They will behave badly. It’s all part of learning what is right and wrong. Just accept that it will happen and have a plan for how to deal with it (see point #1). If you take it personally you will react emotionally. That is the number one way to escalate the situation with an SWC. If you struggle with this one, walking away from the situation for a few minutes can be very helpful.
As I said, I will expand on each one of these points in upcoming posts. But for now, I hope that you can find something that helps you have a better day with your Strong-Willed-Child.