10 Things My Strong-Willed Child is Teaching Me (Part 2)

In case you missed Part 1 of “10 Things My Strong-Willed Child is Teaching Me,” you can read it here. And without further ado, I want to share Part 2 — numbers six through 10 — of what I’m learning by being the parent of a wonderfully strong-willed child:

6. MAKE IT FUN. 

I think I admitted in my last post that having a strong-willed kid caught me off guard. I didn’t see it coming, so I was not prepared mentally. Usually, I try to imagine different scenarios so that I can think through or strategize what I would do. (Really it’s just a coping mechanism to maintain a false sense of control.) But I never had the thought, “What if one of my children is strong willed?”

As a I child I was pretty easy going, outgoing, and fun. Even as an adult I still have a goofy side. I like to joke around; I do funny voices; I burst out in random song and dance. And yet, when I was caught off guard by my middle child’s strength and spiritedness, I was in a constant state of exhaustion from trying to figure out what to do or what I was doing wrong, that I think I lost that silly side of me for a little while. Instead, I was introspective much of the time—brow furrowed, stressed, and continually coping with battles that were coming at me all the time and out of nowhere.

“I was in a constant state of exhaustion from trying to figure out what to do or what I was doing wrong, that I think I lost that silly side of me for a little while.”

{Photo credit: Brooke Aliceon Photography.}

Little did I know, reclaiming my silly and creative side would become one way God would improve my relationship with my strong-willed child. Anytime I made a mundane activity or request—one that normally would cause a huge standoff—fun, I would see amazing results. Bed time. Cleaning her room. Bath. Brushing teeth. Picking up toys. Dinner time. I would use funny accents or incorporate imaginative play or make it a game. I talk about it a little here.

It wouldn’t be every time, because that would be straight up crazy. But I usually incorporate this tactic when it seems like she’s tired, or in a mood, or feeling sassy or defiant. She usually loves it, and changes the trajectory of our day almost instantly.

So I encourage you to tap into your silly side. If you’re out of practice, that’s okay! Keep trying, and when you see your child’s face light up and his or her attitude change, it makes it all worth it!

7. EMPATHY IS KEY. 

Imagine being born with innate desire to be in charge, to question, to think differently than everyone else—but being smaller than these other people called “parents” who are, much to your dismay, the ones who actually are in charge. You don’t understand why they are in charge. They seem tired half the time, and anything you do seems to throw them into utter confusion or frustration. Who are these bozos? And what are their qualifications anyway?

This must be what it’s like to be a strong-willed child. One day, a friend of mine who is a former strong-willed child and a sharp, savvy businesswoman—but also a very caring wife, daughter, sister, and friend—said this to me about my child:

“She’s like a grownup leader trapped in a four-year-old body. Can you imagine what that would be like?”

Something clicked.

Wow. That would be really hard. This thought gives me empathy toward my strong-willed daughter. It helps me to put myself in her shoes and have greater compassion—and greater patience with her.

8. PRAY FOR UNDERSTANDING AND WISDOM.

I began to pray for my daughter and ask God to help me understand her. I did not want to be her nemesis, the person with whom she was always battling. Naturally as a parent, we must set rules and boundaries, and our children are not always going to like them. I get that, and I know I’m not going to be her BFF until she’s much older. She’ll have tons of friends, but only one mother. However, what I mean is that I didn’t want to be butting heads with her constantly. I wanted to understand what she needed from me as a mother—whether it be discipline, understanding, time, a listening ear, etc…

So I began to pray.

“Lord, help me to understand my daughter. Give me wisdom and insight into what she needs from me as a parent.”

God was faithful, as He always is, to answer this prayer for me in many small ways. I believe He gives me wisdom in the moments when I don’t know what to do. There have been times when my first instinct might be to discipline, but I’ll feel a prompting instead: “Go hug her. Don’t say a word. Just hug her.” And I respond in obedience. Or, when I might want to resist giving her a consequence to avoid a big scene, I am instead encouraged, “Be brave, strong, and consistent. It might be tough today, but tomorrow it will be much better.” And it is.

I’m so thankful that in prayer, God makes a way where it may seem unknown or hopeless. We have a Father in Heaven we can turn to when we don’t know what to do, and He will give us wisdom and understanding.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

9. PROVIDE ATTENTION AND CONNECTION.

For this one, I have to give credit to a wonderful website called Aha! Parenting that a friend of mine pointed me to. In an article I read once, Dr. Laura Markham discussed the correlation between a child acting out and his or her need for attention and connection. When our kids are acting out, it’s natural for us to get frustrated and to amp up the time-outs or other consequences. But oftentimes, a child will act out because he or she wants attention—it’s doesn’t matter to them whether or not it’s negative or positive attention. In their young minds, it’s just attention.

Ever since reading this and having my own “Aha! moment,” I remember these wise words and try to spend time each day connecting with each of my children. Whether it’s making eye contact with them (hands free of cooking, cleaning, phone, or computer) and asking about their day, reading them a story, having a snuggle session, affirming what I love or appreciate about them, or doing a little project just the two of us.

Now I am by no means perfect with this. There are crazy days when one-on-one time falls through the cracks. But we can’t go very long without connection before it becomes painfully obvious, and I make sure to give attention and make a meaningful connection, so that my kid’s “love tank” is refilled once again.

10. A SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE LEADS TO GRATITUDE 

At different times throughout the day, I observe my strong-willed child when she doesn’t realize it. At the dinner table. In the pool. When I’m preparing a meal and she’s playing with her siblings. I truly have fallen in love with having a strong-willed (or “spirited”) child. It certainly helps that we seem to have gotten through the terrible two’s and three’s and the fearsome fours and fives. Now that she’s almost six, her tantrums and being contrary or defiant happen much less often than before.

“I truly have fallen in love with having a strong-willed (or “spirited”) child.”

She’s maturing, yes, but my perspective has also shifted. I view her through new eyes. I think God has helped me to see how truly magical she is, that she is a GIFT from Him. Strong-willed children are future leaders. They often don’t succumb easily to peer pressure. They stand their ground on important issues. They defend vulnerable people and worthy causes passionately.  They think differently, which leads to innovation and problem-solving.

And so, as with all of God’s gifts, that leads me to thankfulness. Constant thankfulness that allows me to hug her, draw her close, include her, tell her I love her often, ask her questions, express interest in her life.

I pray this journey only grows fonder and better as she grows up and God continues to shape me into exactly the kind of mama she needs.

*** So tell me, what is your strong-willed, or shy, or wonderfully different child teaching you right now? I’d love to hear about it in the comments sections below. Also, if this post has helped you in any way, please click one of the share buttons below. It may help another parent!

xoxo GMFM

 

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