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I’m Raising a Strong Willed Child, to Put It Nicely

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

There was one morning last week when, like so many similar mornings, I was on the verge of running late. So I was rushing. And my little girl was dragging her feet.

On this particular day, it was because she wanted me to put a movie on — but it could have been any other number of things, depending on the day and her mood.

We didn’t have time for a movie, and I told her as much, but she responded by walking over to our movie shelf, picking up Toy Story, and bringing it to me with wide eyes while repeating, “Woody? Woody?”

I smiled and told her “no,” explaining that we needed to get her dressed and off to daycare. Instead of following me to her room to pick out clothes, though, she walked into mine and began pushing the buttons on the DVD player – convinced she could get the movie playing all by herself.

When I walked in and took the movie from her, turning the DVD player off once more and telling her again, “No movie,” she crumbled to a heap on the floor. It was the beginning stages of a fit; something I have now learned to recognize and head off before they become too extreme.

… At least, most of the time.

Without touching her, I said, “We have to get ready to go. Mommy is going to pick your clothes out. You can either come with me and pick out your own outfit for the day, or you can stay here and pout. But you cannot watch a movie.”

And then, I walked out of the room.

Her cries subsided within seconds, realizing they weren’t going to get her anywhere. But she remained there on that floor, unmoving, until I came back in with the clothes I had picked.

When I asked what she was doing, she responded with, “Pout,” shooting me an angry look in the process.

It was all I could do not to laugh.

My child is stubborn. She is smart and funny, vibrant and loving, determined and … so ridiculously strong willed. Parenting her has taught me a lot. Not just about parenting in general, but also about other parents, about the person I want her to be and about myself.

When I describe her antics to my father, he is always quick to laugh and say, “Hmmm, wonder where she got that from?”

As a child of adoption, it doesn’t really make sense that she would have inherited my personality characteristics – but I have certainly been described as strong willed and determined myself. I’m a single woman who opted to adopt a child on her own; a woman who has fought to have her dream career and who prides herself on being able to support this little family of ours all by myself.

So if I am able to see being strong willed as an asset in adulthood, it is a personality trait I should want to foster in my own daughter, right? Obviously, it is a bit more exhausting in toddlerhood, but I don’t want to break that will of hers. I want her to grow up strong and independent, determined and full of fight.

I actually want her to be strong-willed. Even though I wish she would exert that will just a little less when it comes to me.

I’ve called friends and family in moments of exasperation with my little girl, looking for tips and advice on how to deal with that strong will of hers. Sometimes that advice works, other times it is a laughable failure in execution.

One friend suggested time outs, as that had worked with her son. But when I asked how she got him to stay in time out, she explained she would hold him facing away from her in the time out chair until his two minutes was up.

We tried it a few times. But my daughter, who genuinely likes to be held and cuddled, never once saw this as a punishment. As long as I was there with her, she was fine.

What worked for them simply wasn’t going to work for us. And so, it was back to the drawing board in an effort to find something that would work. (To date, the most successful method for us has come from me simply walking away in moments when she attempts to assert her will.)

Thankfully, my friends are all pretty understanding of the fact that children are different and that what works for one may not work for another. But parenting a strong willed child has taught me that everyone will have their opinions on how I should respond to her behavior, and many of those opinions will veer far away from my own parenting philosophies.

I have to keep a fairly thick skin and remember that no one knows my girl as well as I do – particularly when she is hurling herself to the ground in tears in the middle of a grocery store. And of course, always remember that a stubborn child is not necessarily a bad child.

The other thing I’ve learned is that just as I find those methods that do seem to help keep my daughter on track, she changes things up and stops responding to what had worked the week before.

Leaving her on the floor to pout? Last week, it worked. I was able to pick out her clothes and give her time to cool down before coming back to get her dressed. It’s a gamble, though, and next week I might just come back into the room to find she has used those spare minutes to figure out the remote and play SuperWhy on Netflix, despite my declaration of no TV.

Kids are funny like that. And maybe even more so strong willed kids. They’re smart. And at least with my daughter, she is always evaluating the situation – seeking out ways around whatever I have just mandated. And the more often I use a certain method to get her back in line, the more time she has to find the holes in that method.

One of the things I have come to realize is that her stubbornness is often about her just wanting to be heard. About her wanting to know I’m listening.

And isn’t that something we all want?

I’ve been surprised by how many times her rages have been cooled simply by my acknowledging I understand what it is she wants. Not always, of course. Because when I still don’t give into those desires, she is certainly still prone to sitting on the floor to pout (or trying to find a way to bypass me), but at least some of the time – stopping what I’m doing and hearing her out does make a difference.

So why wouldn’t I do that?

I’m proud to be raising a strong willed little girl, and to be parenting in a way that allows her to maintain that will (within boundaries, of course). I have no desire to break her down. Yes, it is sometimes a more exhausting endeavor than if she were simply demure and compliant. But I’m not demure and compliant, so why would I ever want her to be?

I truly believe my own strong will has been the driving force behind all the best pieces of my life. Which is why, when I recognize the same fortitude in her, I can’t help but be proud.

Even when it does mean her sitting on the floor to pout, just to prove a point.

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