For all you parents of strong-willed kids, I get it. It's not easy—your child challenges you on everything. Even a simple request, such as "brush your teeth," can escalate into a civil war. You are tired, frustrated, and often feel like you are failing as a parent. How are the other moms making this parenting thing look so easy?
I have been there. Two of our three daughters were strong-willed kids. Our oldest was especially challenging. Katie was determined to do life on her schedule and according to her agenda. I, too, had my expectations of what life should look like. As a result we clashed often. This off-beat rhythm continued throughout her high school years.
I almost always felt overwhelmed. Why did the other moms look like they had this parenting thing figured out while I was often trying to discover the best way to deal with one situation after another with Katie? By her junior high years I had adopted a mantra that lasted through her high school years—Today's new rule is. . .
Because for Katie if there was not a specific rule regarding something it must be permissible and she would push the limits on everything.
Here are a few things I discovered that helped me become the mom Katie needed and helped her become more of the person God created her to be.
1. Know your kid—each one individually. I did not realize what a big deal this was in parenting. Each of our girls were and still are very different; not only personality, but how they see life, respond to life, goals, dreams. Looking back I see how sensitive Katie was and still is. I believe at some level she is a highly sensitive person. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201711/24-signs-highly-sensitive-person) Physical stimuli that most of us process or shrug off overwhelms her to the point of shutting down. She is more sensitive to other people's reactions to her and what is going on in the room, group, etc. She feels her emotions deeply.
Know what your kid needs to be happy. Does he need time for physical play before he is ready to sit in the grocery cart for an hour? Does she need a place to be creative—that doesn't have to be cleaned up after every playtime? Does he love music? Does she need alone time with no sharing?
Be in tune with her physical needs. Sometimes we can mistake disobedience for our kids needing their physical needs to be met. Don't expect an overly tired child to be obedient.
The same goes for knowing when he is hungry. When I am hungry I have a shorter attention span, less patience, and less interest in what is going on around me. I need food to be my complete self. If your little one is getting cranky or uncooperative, think about when was the last time he ate?
Know when to stop the madness. Sometimes our kids get in a downward spiral because of hunger, fatigue, or they have been overspent in some way (too many people, activity, noise, etc.). Nothing we try affects their fit. The best thing to do is to remove your child from the situation—take him from the room, take him home, get him to a quiet place, maybe a different activity. Little ones are not emotionally mature enough to stop their spiral. Think about when you get so upset about something. Can you immediately stop being upset because your husband or mom says, "Don't be upset"? No. You need time to process, maybe a run or ice cream—something to dislodge that thing that is troubling you.
Get to know your little person. What motivates her? What has no effect? You say, "I have no idea?" Pray. Talk to God to show you how He made this precious child. Pray for wisdom on how best to relate to her. James 1:5-8 tells us that God will give us the wisdom we need when we ask.
Tap into your husband's personality and experiences. Your husband is a totally different person from you. Gene understood Katie much better than I did. Finally I listened to his viewpoint on Katie's personality. What he said made so much sense. It was a turning point in my relationship with her.
2. Relationship—This is the most important part of parenting. Without a relationship with your child you have nothing. Develop a relationship with each child in a way that speaks love to them. What is that for each child? Don't confuse what speaks love to you for how your child receives love. You may love to sit and talk. Your child may prefer to play ball or go to the art museum. Do what means something to them.
3. Broad but firm boundaries. All kids, and especially strong-willed, need to know what's okay and what's not okay. They need to know what's expected and what they can decide for themselves. Often with strong-willed kids we feel like we are drawing lots of boundaries and making lots of rules. Let me give you an example. When the kids were still at home we all cleaned the house on Saturday morning. The rule was no one went anywhere until their part of the house was cleaned to my satisfaction (none of their shortcuts). After their work was done, the day was theirs. What was expected: clean their part of the house well. What they could decide for themselves: how they wanted to spend the rest of their Saturday.
Parenting strong-willed kids is not easy. Understanding your child is the first and most important step in parenting her. Yesterday I received the sweetest phone call from Katie. She was thankful that we hung in there with her during the tough times. I cannot promise this will be your experience, but unless you do the work to know your child and then stay the course with her, you will never know.