Strong willed kids.
When you put the words “strong willed” together with the word “kid,” it can strike fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. However, it doesn’t have to. While strong willed kids (SWK) can be a challenge, they can also be an incredible blessing.
I have one child who I thought was a SWK and while he has many of those tendencies, I will admit that I never knew what a true-blue SWK was until I had #7. As soon as he was old enough to sit up, you could find him thrusting himself backward, banging his head on the ground when something frustrated him or when he didn’t get his way, and screaming, rolling around, thrashing, kicking…he did and continues to do it all.
He is 18 months now and continuing to show his extreme dislike for things in a variety of ways. Life with him is always an adventure for sure.
The cool thing about a SWK is that you can’t make them do anything – which means that no one else can either. If you have a SWK who is younger, picture what life will be like with them when they are a teen. By that time you will have figured out several ways to manage and love your SWK in a unique way, but since his or her peers won’t have any of these skills up their sleeve they won’t be able to convince your SWK to do anything. Generally speaking, your SWK will not be pushed around by anyone. Your SWK won’t get caught up in anything that is not of their choosing.
Strong willed kids are generally secure in who they are, even if it is only who they think they are, and they are generally kids and people who know what they want. If you have a SWK, I think you know just what I mean.
While all of these things and many more can pose a bit of a problem for you as a parent, they are all part of what makes your SWK unique. While all SWKs share certain commonalities, they certainly are all unique, too.
Again I will say that I am far from a parenting expert, but I have gained a few tricks over the years. In fact, some of these tricks are from my mom since I have one sister who was a SWK, too. The years have taught me a few things that can be helpful when navigating the waters of living with a SWK. As with anything, I continue to learn new things as a parent every day, and my SWKs are some of the best teachers.
So, what have I figured out over the years? Here are some tricks I have found to be useful if I keep them up my sleeve. It is good to have a rather big bag of tricks, too, since SWKs like to feel as though they are the ones in control. As soon as they feel you have “figured them out,” they are going to do everything within their power to become a mystery again. I like to refer to this bag of tricks as something that will keep them guessing.
Here is how you can manage your strong willed kid…and how it has everything to do with you!
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Give them choices
Again, this comes back to their desire to control. Don’t give them too many choices, however, because this will only frustrate them, which is one of the things you are trying to avoid. I find two choices to work well. As the parent, you decide on two separate options that would be acceptable to you regarding an issue, and then you let your SWK choose between the two. Because you have determined ahead of time that both would be fine with you no matter which choice they make, it truly does not matter. They win – you win.
Give them independence by watching from afar
Your kids need to be supervised, they need to be parented, they need to be monitored and all of that, but much of this you can do from afar. You want to be stealth in your monitoring, developing some ninja tricks to be completely aware of their comings and goings as you would with kids who are not strong willed, but you are going to be much more disguised with your SWK. Don’t hover, don’t nag, and don’t ride your SWK. They don’t want to feel as though you are babysitting them. They like control, remember? They also like independence, but this can be perceived independence because you are keeping track of them from afar whenever possible.
Suggest, don’t demand
So often, it is all in how you say something and what you say (and what you don’t say) with your SWK. Keeping in mind their desire to control, it is much more effective to make a suggestion, make an observation, or to offer a quick thought than it is to make a demand about something. State your suggestion and then follow with a, “What do you think about that?” or, “What do you think would be a good plan here?” Again, you’re giving them perceived control because in reality, they may not want to come up with a plan and throw the ball back in your court. The difference here is that they’ve given you the ball of control, you’ve not just taken it.
Less is more
Less truly is more with SWKs isn’t it? Talk less, plan less, monitor less, nag less, do everything less in an attempt to avoid frustrating them. Of course these things need to be done…the talking, planning, instructing and so on, but as the parent of a SWK, you just have to be more calculated in what you choose to take on and how you choose to take it on. Just remember as a general whole, less is more with a SWK. Keeping this in the forefront of your mind at all times in dealing with your SWK will help you choose a better path right off the bat.
Choose your battles
This brings me to my next point. Choose what battles really matter and what ones really don’t. My other kids don’t go to battle with me on every issue whereas my two SWKs almost always do. Decide what truly matters to you. If you are a controlling person like I am, this can be even more of a challenge. I like things done my way. I like order, I like organization, and I love a well thought out plan that comes to fruition. As the parent of SWKs, however, it has to be more about what works for them than it is about how I like things to be done.
Change how you perceive your SWK
It can be difficult, but in the beginning of this post I cited some really great things about SWKs. I will also say that my two SWKs are my most affectionate, concerned, and intuitive kids…when they want to be. Don’t lose sight of the incredible gift that you have in your SWK because this shift in perspective is worth its weight in gold. When you perceive your SWK from a positive viewpoint, you will be a better parent to your SWK. Period. Not always easy, I get that, really I do. However, it will be so beneficial to see your SWK through a positive lens every day.
Remember how I said that I like control, order, and all of that? I also like to follow rules. I like consistency, and I like congruency. These are all things about me that I’ve had to learn to surrender in dealing with my SWKs much of the time. Try as hard as I may, I can’t control my SWKs and I certainly can’t change them, but I can change the things about me that are only aggravated by the things that my SWKs do that are the opposite of these things. Change you. Change your need to control…you want to guide them not control them. Repeat with me…you want to guide them not control them. Good stuff right there. Repeat as often as necessary 😉
Change how you see parenting
So often as parents we feel that we are in a battle. It is us against them. However, we are not in battle, although our SWKs like to make us feel like we are in an all-out war almost every day. The thing is, battles need to have a winner and a loser. This is not so in parenting, especially in parenting a SWK. Before engaging in anything that resembles a fight of any kind, ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” Maybe a different question to ask would be, “Does this really matter?”
The other day on Instagram I posted a picture of my 18 month old eating breakfast in his pajamas that day. The rule in our house is that kids are dressed and have a few chores done before they eat. So, why was he eating in his pajamas? Because in that context, on that day, in that situation, I had decided that fighting him to get dressed before breakfast wasn’t worth it.
While he won’t always be eating in his pajamas, a big hurdle to overcome in that situation is to remember that I don’t need to “win” when it comes to how he eats breakfast. That day, I let him choose.
That day, he needed me to take into account his mood, his natural temperament, and his desire, even at only 18 months, to control something about his life that morning. So, pajamas it was.
And do you know what? He ate breakfast in his pajamas…and it really was ok. It was fine. I didn’t win that battle, but I did win the war in that context because my son knew that he was loved, he didn’t start off his day being frustrated, and having that bit of control made him more willing to allow me to control something else shortly thereafter.
Love them unconditionally
We know that as parents we need to love our kids unconditionally, but this is especially true in the case of a SWK. They feel the tension, they feel the stress, they feel your frustration. As much as they like to know that they are controlling you in regards to those things, they don’t need to be wondering if you still love them in spite of it. Make sure they know that they are loved.
Parenting a strong willed kid can be a challenge, but it can also be an incredible gift. Keeping a few things in mind, having a fresh perspective, and knowing a few tricks to keep up your sleeve can help you navigate the tumultuous waters just a bit, making them a bit smoother. It will be so worth it!