Ten helpful ideas for parenting strong-willed kids (part 2)

In part 1 of this story, I shared our family’s reconciliation between practical parenting needs with our daughter’s strong will. Here, I summarize some points for parents struggling with the same behaviors and provide references for further exploration. Enjoy!

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Strong-willed children cannot be made to do anything they don’t want to do, but they can be convinced. If the expectation is reasonable, and your child understands the reasons and loves you, then your kid will often be on your side. Here’s how:

1. Value your relationship above all else and give up control whenever possible. For example, my daughter gets full control over what clothes, hair-dos, and blankets she wears (life-threatening situations excepted). At age three, she is granted these rights and also the responsibility for her choices. For example, she has full permission to puddle stomp, but I don’t end adventures early because she’s wet.

2. Parent in the affirmative. Say yes whenever possible, as in: “Sure, you can have a treat. As soon as you pick up your toys, like we talked about.” Tell your child what to do instead of what not to do and go along with her antics, ideas, and fun-loving nature when you can. Delight in her.

3. Avoid power struggles and direct commands; e.g. whenever you don’t care enough to take it to the death. In moments of small infringement when I got nothing, I often say, “I don’t like it when you do that,” and go on as if nothing happened. Kids have nothing to lose, and their conviction is often stronger than ours. Instead of mandating what your child must do, explain what you will do, the behaviors you will tolerate, and what will happen if you don’t see some cooperation.

4. Save your breath. Adults who give constant feedback risk becoming innocuous background noise. Remember the teacher from Charlie Brown? Waa wah wah waa wah wah. Don’t belabor the point when behavior is marginal or danger is a mere possibility. Your words may then ring true in moments that count.

5. Allow natural consequences to teach your child. If there’s none then think up an appropriate one and offer it as an alternate choice to the behavior you want. Don’t offer choices you’re not 100% ok with and don’t invest in the outcome. Stay neutral. It’s up to your kid to cooperate or take the consequence.

6. Set a few rules, even for toddlers (age 1) that you know you can enforce. Articulate the reasons behind the rules, the music behind the madness. A strong-willed child needs to understand why rules are in place, and have permission to work the available loop holes. She will be looking for them. When your kid discovers situations where the reasons don’t apply, then bend and hope she’ll learn from your modeling. “I see your point,” I like to say. “I can be flexible about that.” Or “Sure you can; as long as it’s not a problem.”

7. If you want your kid to listen the first time then don’t ask more than once. Assume your kid remembers and understands what you said. Choose a consistent cue like “uh-oh” to let your child know that a choice or consequence is coming. You are not required by law to give a warning before a consequence.

8. Try non-verbal forms of communication. Refrain from verbal directives especially in moments when your child is “on the edge.” Open your arms for a hug. Hold up a single finger for “just a minute.” Learn the sign for “don’t touch.” Reach out your hand to hold when you want to leave. Go get him or move to where you want him and start eating, reading, etc. Give him a chance to follow of his own accord.

9. In emotionally charged, right-brained moments (i.e. tantrums), a. Use non-verbal signals to communicate comfort. b. Offer empathy to validate feelings and help your child get calm. c. Be a good listener or talk a non-verbal child through what happened. d. Wait to reflect and request different types of behavior until your child is back at stasis.

10. Decide what qualities you want to cultivate in yourself and don’t let your child push you to become angry, anxious, or mean. Keep your cool. Kindness can be the most effective way to change challenging behavior. Your kid is going to grow up to be awesome.

Suggested resources:

Circle of Security International www.circleofsecurityinternational.com/

Cline FW & J Fay (1990) Parenting with Love and Logic.

Forehand R & N Long (2002) Parenting the Strong-Willed Child.

Shanker S (2016) Self Reg.

Siegel DJ & T Payne Bryson (2014) No-Drama Discipline.

Tobias CU (2012) You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded).

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Success! The musical

It’s been a while since I last wrote. I got a job. I promised myself that I wouldn’t stop writing weekly posts but it’s been six months and I didn’t write any. Not. A. Single. One.

I’ve learned that the few hours that go into a blog post aren’t really just a couple of hours: They are a couple of hours when I have already played with A, walked the dog, filled the prescriptions, made the appointments, found the gift, thawed the meat, and still have energy to spare. It is a few hours when the house is quiet and I have something intangible on my mind that I can almost put a finger on. It is a few hours when I feel clear enough to place one word after the next and hope, with trepidation, that some lift might happen to make those words worth sharing. For six months, I have not had any such hours.

Last summer the baby-wearing hike, nap/writing, dinner-making routine I enjoyed the year before gave way to nap jail from 11:30 – 3:30. The summer was a sunny one and I was the only fish-belly left in Juneau. And in the ongoing parenting battle, I was losing. After a particularly trying day, I took matters into my own hands. Universe, I said, I’m ready for a job.

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I started small with house parties and potlucks: “I’m going to open myself up to a job,” I would say to anyone who would listen.

“What kind of job,” the people asked.

“Don’t know,” I would say. “I’m waiting to find out where Juneau needs me.”

Sure enough: Someone sent me a job announcement. I applied, and I got it.

Now I work at a non-profit full of amazing people. Things have been good. Since starting here, I’ve felt a sense of belonging; I’ve felt needed, and like I’m making a difference, and I’ve felt appreciated. Being in a new field has brought words, books, and conversations I never knew existed. I’ve met people who will inspire me for the rest of my life.

Having arrived at this once vague and distant future where I am a working parent, things are not as I’d imagined. My job is harder than I thought it would be; and after paying for childcare and keeping the family in health insurance there isn’t much take home pay. I’m out of shape, and for the first time in my life I don’t go outside on a daily basis. I find myself wondering: Is this worth it?

The other night I dreamt of Success! The musical. Literally, those words were written in pink neon lights above this staircase where dancers were “climbing the ladder,” singing a chorus of resume building activities: Go to college, get a job, work real hard… over and over in three part harmony.

Thank you, dream brain, for leaving very little up to interpretation.

I’ve always thought that the only right way to success was to find a job that suited you well, devote yourself to it like a spouse, and go to it every day for twenty years. There would be rough times; ups and downs; but as long as you stayed in it the rewards would outweigh the sacrifices. That’s how these things work.

I’ve had plenty of interesting jobs, but nothing that rings of a profession. I’ve always thought that part if life was yet to come. I want this to be it.

But I’m struggling with the enormity of what making a difference actually means and I’m not sure I have what it takes. While I feel inspired by what a person might learn and accomplish in twenty years, I’m not sure I have inspiration enough to make it through next week.

This might look like a simple question of should I stay or should I go. But having invoked the Universe, having been placed clearly, squarely into my current situation, and having set an intention for the long haul actually leaves me with a crisis of faith.

Have you failed me, Universe? Have I failed you?

It doesn’t have to be this job, you kindly say. I know. Maybe I’m better suited for seasonal work. Or creative work. Or parenting.

It’s been a decade now since I started making all major decisions based on an intuitive sense of rightness – not choosing based on what makes sense, but on which choices drive a tingling up my spine or a sense of expansiveness in my heart. For the first time in a decade I feel uncertain about what I’ve gotten myself into.

For now I will do what I’ve learned to do in moments of existential anxiety: I refocus my view to see no farther than the end of my nose; I remember the reasons for the decisions that got me here; and I put one foot in front of the other.

Millennial me

Hi. My name is Heidi, and I am a millennial. Before you judge, let me explain:

I was born in 1981; a cusp year. I grew up watching the Cosby Show, Smurfs, and the first class of Saved By the Bell. I played with Little Miss Make-up, Care bears, and Pogo balls. We wore slap wraps, hammer pants, hyper-color shirts, and a bunch of other stuff most millennials have never heard of.

I grew up with gen-X friends and cousins who probably see millennials as a bunch of lazy, self-serving good-for-nothings living off of their parents and whining that they’d get rich if only they could get their big break… Or maybe that’s a thought I’ve had. I hoped if I passed myself off as one of you, I could escape that reputation and my sense of personal specialness.

For a long time though, I’ve excused myself as being “culturally gen-X” under the guise that upbringing is more important in deciding generation per se than birth year. Like maybe I would have been a millennial if I was cool enough to have dial-up internet in 1993 when the only thing to do online was talk to people you didn’t know in weird, themed chatrooms; but I was’t. Be-bo-be-bo-crrrrrrr.

My family did not “get the internet” until 1998 when I was about to graduate high school. I spent a lot of time those days on Instant Messenger talking to friends who had already gone away to college.

Also, I can’t spell “millennial.” I have been struggling with that one for 19 years so how could I be one? Thankfully, I use the internet well enough that I was able to come up with the correct spelling for this post plus lots of pictures of young people taking selfies.

The first time I heard anyone use the term “selfie” was in 2014. I was working as a Park Ranger in Glacier Bay, and I was aboard a cruise ship parked in front of a tidewater glacier. A young man with an iPhone caught my eye and said, “Selfie?” I didn’t understand what he was asking, and I didn’t like it, so I just kept walking like any self-respecting gen-Xer would do. A few minutes later he was back, peering at me from around a corner; “Selfie?”

Whaaaaaaatt!?

Thankfully, being from the most empathetic generation ever, he read my confusion and used a complete sentence: “Can I take a selfie with you? ”

“Oh,” I said. “Sure.”

What good is identity anyway? I like to rebrand myself now and then just to keep my inner psyche on her toes. Here’s what did it:

Last year I watched Iliza Shlesinger’s Netflix stand-up comedy special, Elder Millennial, thinking I’d get to enjoy feeling superior to the millennial generation. But I got all of the jokes. I loved it, and I identified with it.

Wait a minute, said my cerebral cortex, if she was born only two years after you…and she’s a millennial…wouldn’t that make you…

Stop! Shouted my limbic brain. No need to go any farther with that thought!

Ok, said my cerebral cortex. My mistake. She is from New York City so her family probably got the internet really early, like 1992…

Phew, said limbic brain. That was a close one.

Meanwhile the participation trophies are still lined up on the shelf, threatening to overthrow my childhood bedroom. (Actually, all of my childhood stuff is still basically in that bedroom. It’s like my own personal shrine.)

Sigh. I know Millennials have a bad reputation with older generations, but the older I get the more I relate to and need my younger friends. Here’s what I love about them, ahem, us:

I’ve never met a group of people with such admirable hearts. Millennials are smart, creative, funny, honest, and ambitious. We refuse to compromise who we are. We have the courage to ask hard questions about who we are and why we do what we do; because experience with failure has caused us to lose our fear of failure. We ask the hard questions – Who am I? Isn’t there more to life than this? – over and over, and we are not afraid to change the answers. We accept ourselves and empathize with others. We refuse to compromise who we are and so grow into people of great faith and focus. Our roots are woven together into a fabric of human equality, ethics, and a vision of a better world.

Ambitious haircuts still make me nervous. I don’t have an Instagram account, and I struggle to use hashtags (#wtfhashtags). But I’m working on these things. Like it or not, I’m a millennial, and I might as well get used to these things. Maybe generational confusion is a natural part of growing up as one generation of peers makes its way out of the world, and the next generation makes its way in. Or maybe that’s just me, a millennial, thinking I’m someone special.

If you enjoyed this post, please share the love.

Share the love

A few months into my life as a blogger, Lovewarrior’s posts reached about 150 people. This was a serious uptick from the previous years when all writing stayed locked inside my computer (writer = 1; readers = 0). It was a very happy time for me.

Lovewarrior’s first followers included my friends, my mom, my mom’s friends… you get the picture. My personal network saturated and readership plateaued, but it felt great to write for you all so I posted more often.

Then I got my first “share” based on a post called her need for love does not shame her, and it reached 350 people.

Looking back on that post, I realize the potential of each cyber move we make and the power of the “share” multiplier effect. If value in written work can be measured by the effect of our words, then with one click, this reader effectively had more of an impact than I did. He or she also extended the reach of my words beyond my personal network. I don’t know who you are, but thank you.

The simple effort of that first share changed how I think about activism and my work in the world. If I spend several hours on any one written post, the least I can do is spend a few minutes sharing the work of others. If you like a post on this blog, or any blog, please click the “share” button and add that post to the feed on your personal page.

What do you want to see grow in the world? Share it. Your clicks change the world everyday.