We’ve all been blessed with at least one strong willed child, right? I mean, it’s only fair…tell me I’m not alone! I know it can drive us absolutely mad dealing with these strong-willed little humans that we created, but I firmly believe it is so important not to break their spirits.
The world needs leaders, people who will stand up and say what’s right, even if it goes against the crowd. The world needs people who will fight for justice and be too stubborn to give up or give in. The world needs that strong-willed child you’re raising and these strong-willed kiddo’s I’m raising. How do we raise them well and maintain that delicate balance of having boundaries, while still letting them be who they were made to be? Here are a few “tricks” I’ve learned along the way-
Establish a baseline mutual respect between the two of you. It is so important that your child knows that what they say and feel will be treated as valid by you. The less we validate their thoughts, opinions and emotions about the little things, the more they push back and make a mountain out of a molehill. So much of a child’s attention seeking behavior can be drastically reduced when we listen, validate, analyze the behavior and address the real issue behind it. At the end of the day, they just want their voices to be heard and their opinions to have value.
I have observed how this works hundreds of times with my own kids and other children I have worked with. The example is something like this- It is cold outside. You know your child needs to wear a coat. You cannot give them a choice of whether or not to WEAR a coat, but you can ask, “Would you rather wear your blue coat or your red coat?” All along, we really have the power and the child is doing what we want them to do, but we are giving them the sense that they have a say in this matter and that we will let them have a small, safe degree of control. It goes so much smoother, when I allow my children to have controlled choices and have an input into things that directly AFFECT them, so that they can learn to trust their OWN voice and instincts.
3.Explaining and Reasoning
It has always been so important to me to treat my children like the intelligent beings that they are and to always explain WHY I am making or asking them to make particular choices. We discuss what we believe. We talk about possible consequences of not following a certain rule. For example, with my younger son, we have to have conversations about how if he doesn’t listen and look both ways when he crosses the road, a car could hit him and seriously injure him. When he is aware of the consequence that may happen, I don’t have to tell him the rule anymore. He wants to protect himself from that outcome and makes the safe choice independently. With an older child, it will look different. I have conversations with my 9 years old about how our words hurt and why it is never okay to bully people. I tell her personal stories and she sees my pain and the lasting impact speaking unkindly to others can have and she thinks of how badly she would feel, if she made another kid feel that same sadness. She has understanding, empathy and all the tools to then go make wise and kind choices around her peers, whether I am there or not. Our children are far more likely to make good choices, when they know the reasoning behind them. “Because I said so” definitely does not give them the tools they need in a hard situation, to know what to choose and why they should make that decision.
4. Healthy Boundaries
Think of how you felt as a child, when your parents gave you a warm, firm embrace or tucked you tightly into your blankets at night? You felt secure and believe it or not, healthy boundaries make our children feel safe, loved and looked out for. Through all the suggestions I have made above, I am certainly not advocating for letting our kids run the show. They need boundaries. They of course are not emotionally mature enough to always know what is safe, good or right for themselves. This is where we step in with the rules, we put in place to keep them safe, healthy and thriving. You know what is amazing though to watch, if you follow step 1,2 and 3? Once you have established that you respect your child as an individual who has thoughts, feeling and opinions and you listen to them; After you give them controlled choices and build up their self esteem with a feeling that you trust them to make wise decisions and when you have explained why you ask of them what you do and shared your beliefs and reasoning with your children; there is suddenly not nearly the amount of push back and power struggles that there once were.
Your child knows you will hear them out, you will help guide them, you have their best interests at heart and just want to keep them safe and raise them to be good people. They grow to understand that the boundaries that you put in place, stem from this place of love for them and then they don’t resent them quite so much. If we’re going to raise kids that change the world, we have to let them be the strong people they were made to me and trust that they were given the personalities and traits that God knew they would need in their lives. It isn’t easy to raise kids like ours, but it is so worth it to see the amazing people they become.