The Strong-Willed Child
My sweet little Claire is wonderful. Claire is kind, loving, intelligent, and as stubborn as a mule. At three years old, Claire is showing that she is her own person and will do what she wants, when she wants. This would be fine if Claire was 25 years old and living in her own place. However, at 3 years old and in my house, this isn’t going to fly.
It is quite amazing to see how strong-willed this little girl is. No matter if it’s what clothes she wants to wear, when she wants to eat, or whether playtime is over, Claire lets you know her desires without any hesitation. I find myself, at moments, wondering where the line should be drawn between letting her be this strong-willed, little person and needing to “break her in”.
I’ve been reading about strong-willed kids and the positive side is that, while early on they can be tough, they will grow to become great teenagers, capable of holding on to their integrity and not easily peer-pressured. This comes as great news to this father.
Here are a few things I’ve discovered so far about parenting a strong-willed child:
- Choices are essential: Early on I learned that asking Claire what she wanted was the wrong question to ask. Strong-willed kids want to be in charge of their choices, so if you ask them what they want, they will tell you without hesitation. The problem comes when their response isn’t an option you are willing to accept. I now word my questions like so: “Claire, which of these three outfits do you want to wear?” I have preselected the three outfits so I can live with whatever choice she makes. It is a win-win for both of us. This has been huge in dealing with food, clothes, and activities.
- “I wanna do it myself!”: This comes out of my daughter’s mouth anytime there is anything to be learned, experienced, or explored. Claire is not okay with mom or dad telling her that getting too close to the fireplace could burn her. Claire wants to feel the heat on her skin and see why she shouldn’t get that close. I’ve realized that Claire learns better when she can experience what we are talking about. I guess this can be applied to most people; however, there is a clear need for Claire to understand things by “doing it her self.” As long as there is a safe way for this to happen, it is worth doing.
- Raising my voice is pointless: This is really hard for me. My personality is pessimistic by nature, so when my daughter does something I disapprove of, it shows. I naturally raise my voice to confront Claire when she is doing something wrong and this causes her to become defensive. My wife constantly reminds me that a calm, cool voice will go a long way when disciplining. When I am able to listen to my wife’s wisdom, Claire is willing to listen as well.
- Strong, yet gentle leadership: We hear from counselors, psychologists, and all kinds of experts that children need discipline and guidance. Yet, the strong-willed child wants to be the master of his or her own destiny. As parents, we need to have just the right balance of strength and gentleness when leading these kids. I wrote a post a while ago about the strength of men. I think this post explains that balance well.
- Expect it to be challenging: Parenting in general is hard. When my daughter asserts her strong will it shouldn’t come as a surprise. I know that my daughter is going to want to do it her way. I know my daughter will want to question or challenge what I say. Therefore, I’ve learned we must be preemptive with strong-willed children. Think about what your child might do or say when you tell them it’s time to eat, or take a bath, or put toys away. When I expect my daughter to do it “my way” and it doesn’t work out I have myself to blame.
So, there you go. This is just some of what I have observed/learned so far. Nothing terribly complicated, but it’s so much easier said than done. Maybe our next kid will be willing to accept a simple, “because I said so.”