“Strong-willed children often grow into strong-willed adults who become world leaders, world shapers and world changers. Parenting them peacefully is not only possible, it’s imperative because sowing peace in their hearts now when they’re in our care will grow a future of peace later when the world is in their care.”
– L R Knost
Despite whatever unique challenges our children throw our way on a daily basis, we all adore them. Most of us can identify with that heart-bursting, unconditional love that comes along with this little person you’ve created.
We know we should “cherish every moment” and there’s a part of us that gets what the old lady in the shopping centre means when she says “They’ll never be that age again, enjoy it!” BUT try as we might, we sometimes find our minds plummeting forward and wishing we had a crystal ball as we try to predict the future. In some ways the future each of us wants or dreams of for our children could be very different but I’m sure the basics are fairly universal.
I mean, we want those things… right? We want them to go out into the world and say “I’m here and whatever you throw at me, I can take it!”
But the traits we want for our children as adults can be incredibly challenging in a child you’re trying to parent.
So what can we do? How do we foster that feisty spirit, still set Loving Limits and keep a reasonable element of peace in our households?
1. Embrace it
Remember the endgame. Remember that what you see as disobedience/stubbornness/rigidity now will translate to questioning instead of blind adherence later and will be a positive trait when it comes to questioning peer choices, boundaries in relationships and personal moral code versus that of others.
Picture that uncanny ability to argue any point at all in a courtroom and see those leadership qualities fast-tracking them to CEO.
2. Assess what it brings up in you
For me, I see myself in my strong-willed child and my reaction to that is showing me that I have some real work to do on myself. I have seen myself in this child very early on and my response has pretty much always been “Oh, please… no… not a little me!” which tells me things I didn’t even know about myself and is leading me down a path of self-discovery and self-acceptance. This child has grown me on so many levels and the work is still to come!
I do a lot of this work through Listening Time with my Listening Partners and I highly recommend that along with any other methods you may have at your disposal.
It may be the opposite scenario for you. Perhaps you are more introverted and fear this bold spirit and what that will mean as they go through their ages and stages. Perhaps it’s incredibly challenging in public situations or with friendships. Again, get yourself some Listening and explore those feelings.
3. Work WITH them
Strong-willed children don’t want to be taught or told. Hello?! They already know EVERYTHING and as my strong-willed child just told me “You don’t know everything just because you’re like 45 or whatever!” (we both know I’m only 33).
Come up with plans for the most challenging issues you have. Discuss a game plan for triggering situations, maybe have a code-word for them or for you when you need a little help regulating your emotions.
4. Arm yourself with the best tools
The book “Listen” by Patty Wipfler goes through the 5 Hand In Hand Parenting tools which I find so incredibly helpful in parenting any child. Special Time and Roughhousing in particular help to solidify our connection which then makes setting limits much more feasible.
5. Make Playful Parenting your go-to often
Dr Larry Cohen is the King of Playful Parenting and his book is another brilliant parenting resource full of playful ideas for specific situations as well as helping you get started. Laughter is a brilliant release and excellent diffuser. Playful Parenting also allows you to set limits in a playful way and that can often help you shift gears.
6. Don’t underestimate their sensitivity
As with strong adults, we often forget about the emotional needs of strong-willed children.
This can be especially hard as a lot of strong-willed children will push back against vulnerability preferring the ease and deceptive safety of anger over the real feelings driving it. If anything, our strong-willed children need to release their big feelings more frequently than their peers.
Gentle parenting circles often refer to a metaphorical “emotional backpack” containing children’s emotions. This backpack is the most common driver of off-track behaviour. Strong-willed children tend to want to appear strong to the world around them, which means they are more likely to stifle big feelings and emotions or pretend that they haven’t been rattled when there are witnesses about. This means that they are probably filling their emotional backpack faster and more frequently which then means they need more chances to cry and release those feelings.
This can be really tricky to navigate as most will put up resistance against your warmth and empathy in supporting their release of emotions. So it is important you build yourself good support so you can Staylisten (empathically supporting the release of children’s emotions) to them often and for long periods despite the fight you may come up against as well as going to laughter as much as possible too.
7. Empower Them
Celebrate their gifts and talk about the possibilities those traits might give them. Read stories about people putting those skills to good use. This list by A Mighty Girl focuses on books about strong women but would be useful for any genders and this one is about bullying prevention to teach our strong-willed kids to use their powers for good.
Teach them about diversity and standing up for what is right, as well as being a good advocate for those who don’t possess their gifts.
8. LOVE THEM FIERCELY AND UNCODITIONALLY
These children are great teachers. They will show us parts of ourselves we didn’t know we had and challenge us beyond any bounds we had anticipated. The great news is that whilst they may be hard to parent now, the future will be bright. These children are the game-changers, the peacemakers, the activists and the leaders.
What you can do for your strong-willed child today:
Strong-willed children KNOW how to push buttons. So the hardest thing for us as parents is taming our response. I love Dr Laura Markham’s “Stop, Drop and Breathe”:
STOP what you are doing or about to do
DROP your agenda
BREATHE through the moment before responding
A great way to drop you agenda is to reframe your thoughts or use a mantra. So come up with a few in-the-moment mantras such as “My child is not a problem, my child is having a problem..”, “This is not an emergency..”, “My child is signaling for connection in the best way they can right now..”, “Choose love”.
You can print a few out and place them around the house or have the kids paint some calming messages for each room.
Keep working with your child/children to maintain a respectful household. Have regular family meetings where you celebrate each other’s attributes and what works well in your home and ask the kids for help in whatever areas they identify as needing help in and ask them how they want you to respond in certain situations.
Make Special Time and Roughhousing part of the daily routine. I have two children so we do 10 minutes Special Time followed by 3-5 minutes of roughhousing each day and more of both on weekends.
Make sure you have a good self-care routine which includes getting yourself Listened to so you can face the oft-times hard and poorly supported work of parenting.
Welcome emotions and encourage emotional release.
Feel free to contact me, Aunty Ask, for Listening Time or any questions.
You are good, you are wise and you’ve got this!
With love from this strong-willed child turned adult xx