I’m one of those people who loves gadgets, and typically sits down and reads the manual from cover to cover when I get something new. Unfortunately, my 6-year old, strong willed daughter didn’t come with a user guide. It sure would be handy to be able to flip to page A-6 and figure out how to reset her when she’s having a tantruming malfunction.
Parenting kids is hard, and parenting a strong-willed child comes with a few extra challenges. A few years ago, I found Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child : Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries by Robert J. Mac Kenzie, which was an amazing help to me. It helped me understand what was going on in her little head (very difficult when both parents were “compliant” children!) and why typical parenting techniques don’t work with her.
Overall, I’d say our discipline method isn’t necessarily to punish, but to allow her to feel the natural consequences of her behavior or actions. For example: if she chooses not to wear a coat, she will be cold. Yes, I have gotten dirty looks as I walked from the car to the store bundled up, holding hands with my coat-less daughter. But you know what? The next time I suggested she may want her coat, she listened. I’m also that Mom you saw calmly carrying a kicking, screaming child out of the store!
If you think you may have a strong-willed child, I highly recommend reading this book. It truly helped me understand her nature, and that I wasn’t failing as a parent. It also gave me “permission” to mourn the child I always thought I would have.
So, back to discipline. I encourage her to “take a break” (time out) in order to calm herself and think her words and actions through. I also emphasize empathy; I’ve had her look at herself in the mirror while she repeats things she has said to hurt others, so she can see and hear what it was like to be on the receiving end of such hurtful words and facial expressions. I make it known that I will always love her, even if I don’t love her behavior, and once consequences are over and we’ve talked things through, I let it go. I could talk for hours about the struggles we’ve had with her strong willed personality, but I’ll move on to the point of this post!
My daughter has been saving the money she receives as gifts. She says she is saving to buy a house when she’s a grownup (but she might just live with us instead.) That’s not to say that she doesn’t want things (like, everything…) she just wants us to buy it!
Part of her strong willed nature is that she gives me a terrible time with her homework. She is at the top of her class and actually enjoys her homework, but she will “play dumb” and roll her eyes, sigh, slam her pencil down and say “I don’t know” to things she really does know. A few weeks ago, she was to name and value coins. She was just guessing “pennynickelquarterdime” for every coin, and after trying several things to try to get her to tell them apart, I was at a loss. I sent her off to play while I thought. I was really concerned that she truly didn’t know this.
A couple minutes later, I called her back (I received more sighs and eye rolls), opened my wallet and dumped my change in my hand. I told her that every coin she named and valued correctly, she got to keep.
Go figure, she named and valued every coin in rapid succession, as quickly as I could put them on the table. Hmm…
As I said earlier, we “discipline” by allowing her to feel natural consequences, as long as they’re not unsafe. In cases where there isn’t a natural consequence, or the consequence isn’t safe, we use a simulated consequence. For example, when she refused to hold hands in a parking lot, I would pick her up and carry her like a baby. No arguing, no yelling, no power struggle, just the consequence of being carried!
What we have most struggled with is her attitude; she is a teenager in a 6-year old’s body. I mean really, I expected to deal with this when I had a teen daughter; I thought 6-year olds were supposed to think their Moms were great! Since she is seeking the power struggle, it is best to ignore it whenever we can, but that’s not always possible. I had a light bulb moment the other day, got out my label maker and introduced…
the attitude jar. There’s no arguing, no pleading, no power struggle. Rude? Disrespectful? Hateful? Put a buck in the jar. Kind of like a swear jar. You can see that the first few days were rough. She used up all of her ones and we had to make change!
It hasn’t been an overnight miracle, but it has been a real success. Putting the dollar in the jar serves as an automatic “take a break” where she has to remove herself from the situation to make the deposit, and it gives her the time to think about whether it was worth it. The jar sits on the counter as a reminder, and every time she has put a dollar in, she will point her finger at it, make a silly face and say “I am not feeding you again!” I wondered if she’d be angry about putting a dollar in, but she seems to accept it as the consequence for her actions.
I don’t like to do a whole lot of “warning” since strong willed kids tend to take nagging as “well, I don’t have to do it as long as I don’t mind hearing her talk about it over and over.” However, since we’re still establishing the rules for this consequence, we have reminded her when she’s starting to exhibit some fine-worthy behavior, and it sometimes helps her shape up. Since I started working on this post and took the picture of the jar, we’ve had to make change once again! There are currently twelve dollars in the jar, and we’ve avoided twelve power struggles.
Though my number one goal some days is just to make it to bedtime without losing my mind, I want my parenting to shape my daughter, not just get us through the day. Really, I’m not raising kids, I’m raising adults! When she is a teenager, she will have really big decisions to make, and the choices will be hers alone. Ideally, the values I’ve taught her will stick with her, but in the end she has to make the choices. I hope that by allowing her to make choices and sometimes fail (when the consequences are minor), she will have the confidence to make the right choices and enjoy positive consequences when it really matters!
So far, my son is really different. He is not exactly an “easy” kid, but he isn’t exhibiting the extreme “strong willed” traits that my daughter showed from birth and beyond. If there is any justice, a third child will be both “compliant” and a good sleeper. Hee hee.
Do you have a strong willed child? Have you used creative discipline techniques?