Monday, March 26, 2018

Tips for dealing with a strong willed child

As previously mentioned--I am a strong believer in the idea that you get back what you gave your parents. As a child, I was definitely strong willed. My father worked out of town during the week, so it was just me and mom a lot of the time. As sad as it is to say--I know that I got away with a lot because she was just too tired to fight with me. Now that I am a mom, I feel her pain from way back then. I still don't know how she did it.

This time of year in our household is crazy. My husband is a soccer coach and he coaches two teams. This means that he is not home very much during the week. It is pretty much just me and P most nights. My husband is definitely more of the disciplinarian in our home, so I can see that P definitely tries to push the envelope more with me. She's a smart girl that understands the strategy of divide and conquer.

In general the kid is just strong willed. She knows what she wants and she will not back down. Here are a few things that I have found that help with her. My hope is that they might work with your child as well. By all means, though, we are still working. It is a process.

1. Know when to negotiate, but be careful
A long time ago I wrote a post on dealing with tantrums. In that post I talked about how I use positive reinforcement (aka bribery) with my child. To this day that is one of my most read posts. You can check it out here. While I still believe in positive reinforcement--I do think that it can be a slippery slope as your child gets older. You want to find a balance on using rewards for good behavior without it becoming the only way you can get said good behaviors. Once this starts to happen--it really isn't good for parent or child. It's time to use some fresh tactics.

We often negotiate with our daughter over small things like screen time (one more minute) or number of bites she has to eat of peas--but not over more important things like baths or bedtimes. I think that drawing that line in the sand also sends a message to your child about priorities.

2. Pick your battles
This is in almost every parenting post that I write. Every. Single. One. I cannot stress enough how much I believe in this. There are just some days, and just some times where the fight is not worth it. I believe in readdressing that behavior later. For instance--I will always try to diffuse situations in the morning because we simply do not have time to fight it out. I would much rather address that issue on a weekend morning where the message is still clear, but we are not all late for work! Bottom line is that you know your kid, and you know their breaking point. You want to walk that fine line of addressing the issues without demoralizing them completely for the day.

My favorite tactic for this is to address the same few behaviors at a time. This weekend we were working on defiance. Every time she told us no--we addressed it. That was our focus. While we certainly addressed other behaviors here and there. We were more willing to let a few slide to prevent our daughter from reaching the point of total frustration. More than a few times at least.

3. Choose a punishment and stick to it
This can be hard for many parenting teams. Different parents have different punishments that they like. Whether you believe in spanking or not--find a strategy that you can both get behind and use it consistently. In our house we are really trying to focus on time out. I have noticed that it does make a difference. The key is to be consistent.

4. Use negative reinforcement
A lot of parents don't like negative reinforcement, but for a particularly strong willed child like my own--I do think that it is necessary. My daughter is currently going through an overly emotional phase. Any time that we tell her no, or she thinks that we have raised our voices at her (what she considers yelling is not yelling to me), she will cry. This is not acceptable behavior. She needs to be able to deal with redirection.

Once we have done time out several times and cycled through our other tactics--the negative reinforcement is the last strategy I reach for. The key with this strategy is to use what your child likes the most. My kid loves stuffed animals. She sleeps with about 30 of them--seriously! So last night when she cried when I asked her to pick up her socks, I took all of her animals and threw them in the hallway. She was forced to sleep the whole night without them. May sound mean, but it is SOOOO effective!

5. Keep the lines of communication consistent
The key to any good strategy with behavior is to communicate the reasons for the punishment to your child. You want to do so calmly and clearly. This is best done after they are calm. My preferred method of delivery is at the end of time out right before you release them to play again. This is usually after they have calmed down, yet they are eager to listen because they want to go play.

You want to keep your voice calm, yet firm. I also like to use the same wording each time. My speech usually starts something like this:

"Piper, do you understand why you were sent to time out?"
"Why was that not a good choice?"
"What do you need to do in the future?"

At the end I always make sure to tell her that I love her, and I only want to keep her safe. We then end the discussion with hugs and kisses. It is the same every time, and I believe that this consistency is key.

6. Make sure you address when they are doing things well
This is the tactic that I struggle with the most. As parents, I feel that it is easy to get caught up in the negative, and so hard to focus on all of the things that our children are doing right every day. AND that is really sad! This is something that I am trying to work on. Ultimately, at 4 years old, my daughter does want me to be proud of her, and I know that this can be a big tool that I can use to help reinforce good behavior in the future. It's as simple as complimenting her use of manners when saying. "excuse me." I am making that my goal for this week!

How do you deal with your strong willed child? Tell me in the comments!

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