Strong willed children can be a bit of a phenomena. At least when I had my strong willed child it took me a while to figure out how I was going to parent him. Did you, or do you have a similar challenge?
My first child was an easy going temperament child, who loved following instructions, who was content with most of what I gave him whether that was food, toys, clothes to wear etc. He was quite easily pleased. As his parent I felt comfortable and dare I say it, a good parent!
Then came along my second child who refused to eat what I gave him at least half of the time, didn’t like some of his clothes, especially anything with buttons on, and then there were the huge emotional tantrums that would bring the house down.
My reactions weren’t particularly helpful. I had high levels of frustration, frequent yelling and I felt like I was incapable as a mum. Somehow this strong willed child was eluding me, despite every parenting skill I had learnt to date.
After the rude shock that if I wanted to raise both my boys, now 10 years and 8 years, to be their best, I would need to change a lot about the way I parented him. I needed to have some balance instead of the constant battles so I set about becoming more flexible in my approach.
What I write next is what I’ve discovered. Before I go there, I want you to know that, like you I love my boys more than anything else in the world and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them, if it’s in their best interest. Once I had made a decision that I wanted to be a better parent to my strong willed child and I was willing to do whatever it took, the rest has been much easier. I’ve learnt a lot and it’s been worth it – I feel like we have a connection I am proud of and I know that we are both thriving as a result.
Here’s what I learnt:
1) There’s always a reason for their behaviour
No child is ever wrong. They are only wrong if something in our own belief system makes them wrong. My son has always been the messy eater. By the end of his meal approximately one third of his food would be on his clothes, floor, table and hair. It would drive me to distraction! All this time, I felt like it was lack of skill or worst still, he was doing it on purpose. We recently discovered that his nose feels blocked most of the time. If he chews with his mouth closed he feels he can’t breathe, so he chews with his mouth open and some of the food falls out.
They can’t always express why they do what they do but there is always a reason, even if we can’t yet see it.
2) Opposite game of genius
Does your child do the opposite of what you ask of them? This, in the world of cognitive behavioural thinking patterns, is known as mismatching. Mismatching has been demonstrated to be the genius of an entrepreneur, inventor or creative. Mis-matchers look for what’s different, they look for gaps and things that haven’t been done before. Maybe they come up with new games, they do the opposite of what most other children are doing or they get bored really easily. The flexibility comes in when you can learn how to parent your mismatching child, to do what you ask whilst still keeping their genius gift in tact. One way you can this is by pre-framing your request with, “You may not like this and can you please on put on your shoes?” An opposing or mismatching child in their mind immediately says, “I WILL like this.”
Try this technique – it works!
3) It’s all about me
Children all go through an ego-centric phase, this is a completely normal developmental phase. For a strong-willed child, they don’t seem to grow out of it. Whilst other children are displaying more empathy for others, the strong willed child is wanting to know what’s in it for them.
For example, my child was involved in raising money for charity and for each milestone of money raised, he could claim a prize. In his mind raising money was all about the prizes he would get and not how the money would help the charity.
Now it’s so easy to term this as selfish behaviour, but what if this “selfishness” is another asset of the strong willed child? Namely, the ability to reference themselves in decision making, back themselves and believe in themselves… Imagine this ability in tricky teenage situations, making their own decision when the rest of the crowd is moving in one direction. This ability can be a valuable asset.
When we can make SOME aspects of their behaviour right, we are better able to develop their empathy than if we were to make their behaviour ALL wrong.
When parenting, keep both of these in mind: finding the positive in how backing themselves will serve them in life, whilst helping them to develop empathy for others.
4) Emotional rollercoaster
Whilst your strong willed child comes across as tough and is likely to be most of the time. Beneath that tough exterior is a vulnerable, emotional child that probably needs more help with emotional regulation than other children. Get through this emotional rollercoaster and you are on the home stretch! This has to be the most fundamental change I’ve made – learning to not have my emotions override me regardless of the circumstance, and then teaching these techniques to my child.
Learning tools and techniques for your own emotional regulation will reduce your daily battles and bring you peace. I feel out of all the changes you can make, this one will make the biggest difference in your strong willed child’s life.
I hope my discoveries enable you to bring some balance into your relationship with your strong willed child.
Dina Cooper is the founder of Hoogi and a personal coach for mums. Dina operates from the Northern Beaches of Sydney and offers face to face coaching, phone coaching and Skype coaching.
Dina began her career as a qualified Chartered Management Accountant (ACMA) and first recognised her passion and strength in human change in 2004 whilst working at St George Bank. In recognition of her change skills, Dina transitioned from a Senior Accountant to a Change Manager within the bank. In 2009, Dina returned to Australia and went on to study to become a Meta-Coach (ACMC). By engaging a Meta-Coach, Dina overcame her own challenges in becoming the mum she wanted to be, and now enjoys mum-hood everyday! Please feel free to email your questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.