They say parents can determine their child’s personality within the first week of life.
As a mother of three small children, I have found this to be true.
When my first-born daughter was less than a week old, I was desperately trying to get her to latch correctly when trying to feed her. Time and time again, it was so difficult, and not to mention excruciatingly painful. She would latch on incorrectly, so I would take her off and try to put her back on to nurse. Over and over. And each time, this new perfect baby of mine would cry and scream, getting so mad she would turn red in the face because she wasn’t getting what she wanted, when she wanted it.
She was determined.
My mother stayed with us the first week after she was born. As I was piled on the couch with my Hooter Hider, Boppy, nursing pads strewn about, and a screaming new baby in my arms, she looked at me and said, “I think you are going to have a handful with that girl!”
Of course, my mom was joking. Or maybe she really knew? But wow, if I only knew at the time how true that statement was. Looking back, I am amazed at how this little creature’s personality was forming within only a week of being outside of the womb!
Strong-willed. Determined. Spirited.
Sound familiar? Maybe you have one of your own?!? If you are not sure if you have a strong-willed child, you probably don’t. Yes, every child has their challenges and moments of questioning authority. However, if you have a strong-willed child, you know it. They not only question authority, but they also want to be the authority. They want to make the decisions, be the parent, drive the car. As Dr. Laura Markham says, “Strong-willed kids have big, passionate feelings and live at full throttle”
I am writing this post from a place of humility. I don’t know all of the answers. I’m not a perfect mother. It has been a journey for me, figuring out not only what the heck I am doing but also, how to be the mom of a particularly strong-willed child who likes to battle with me head-to-head with every decision I make. In fact, I probably fall into the strong-willed category myself (who am I kidding, I definitely fall into this category)!
Well moms, I am here to tell you a few things. First, I want you to know that being a strong-willed (or spirited, or determined) person, in and of itself, is not bad – it’s actually a great character trait!
“A strong-willed child is not easily daunted or discouraged, holds firm convictions, and doesn’t often accept defeat. A person using strong will in positive ways is fiercely loyal, determined to succeed, and often extraordinarily devoted to accomplishing goals” You Can’t Make Me by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias, an excellent book about this topic that I highly recommend.
A determined child is a blessing and will conquer many things in this life. With the right guidance and direction, my daughter will move mountains with her strong, determined spirit!
Choices and Control
Make sure to give your child plenty of choices and control. A strong-willed child doesn’t need to make the decisions, but they need to feel like they make the decisions. “From the very beginning, your strong-willed offspring will be testing what the boundaries are and how much of their universe they can control.” (Cynthia Ulrich Tobias)
I have found that giving my daughter choices in the small things has been huge. If she’s allowed to choose, she loves to cooperate. This is huge! She has choices about what she wants for a snack and how she makes her bed. If she wants to do something her way and that is not my way, oftentimes I try to let her do it her way – the results are usually the same (kind of). By giving her more control in the little things, I earn more respect when I decide the big things. Do you want to leave now, or in 5 minutes? Letting her make more decisions has helped channel her strong spirit and develop her little (err…big) personality for good things.
I’ve also learned that “because I said so” is not usually a sufficient answer for my daughter. Honestly, it’s not a sufficient answer for me, so why should I expect it to be for her? She wants to be reasoned with and respected, and explained why she isn’t allowed to do something, just as I want to be reasoned with and respected. I have heard that “rules without reason lead to rebellion” (James MacDonald), so I always to help her understand the why’s when I put my foot down.
Choose the Conflict
I’ve learned I have to choose my battles. “Save the conflict for the very important battles you will need to fight later” (Cynthia Tobias).
I know in parenting there are little things and there are big things. As the parent, I need to make the important decisions and put my foot down when it’s appropriate. However, I also need to let certain things go without conflict, in order to preserve my relationship with her. She wants to wear leopard shoes with leopard pants and a leopard cardigan, all on the same day (with a cringe as I type). I have to say yes, or lead her to believe it was her decision to change her shoes! 🙂 Without conflict. Because really, I don’t want to be fighting all the time. I came to this conclusion a little over a year ago, when I realized we were fighting about what she wore. Every. Single. Day.
Be the Comforter and Giver of Unconditional Love
Every so often, my strong-willed-child (SWC) gets into one of her moods. It’s usually when she is tired after a long day and I can tell she is feeling overwhelmed. A little thing will totally set her off – like her sister getting into the car before she does. She will explode, do something mean to her sister, or start yelling and crying. Maybe you have seen this mood in your SWC before – but watch out!
I have found the best solution to this type of behavior has been to give comfort. This is totally the opposite way that I would initially be inclined to react to a meltdown. But it works!
I take a moment, and kneel down to her level and give her a giant hug. Rubbing her back, I tell her that I love her no matter what she does, and that she is so special to me. Amazingly, that is just what it takes to cause her to snap out of her moodiness. Giving her a time-out or getting mad and yelling in return often seems to just make things worse. It’s incredible how well she responds to physical touch and comfort when she is at her worst. Once she snaps out of her funk, then we tackle the issue that triggered her meltdown whether that means apologizing to her sister or dishing out consequences to her actions.
Am I the perfect parent? Most definitely not. Are there days when I say no to the triple-leopard outfit and demand my own way? Um, yes. However, I have to admit that I have noticed some great changes in my daughter, lately. I believe that some of these parenting strategies have actually drawn her closer in relationship to us, which is really one of our ultimate goals as a parent.
“Home should be a place we always look forward to coming back to – a safe harbor where we are understood and valued for who we are.” (Cynthia Ulrich Tobias)
Original post published April 2014