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Raising a child who loves to assert their independence can be fun if you allow them some control, validate their feelings and find creative ways to problem-solve together.
Stubborn people get themselves in a lot of trouble, but they also get things done
- Attributed to Oscar-winning actress, Anna Paquin
Do you often wonder how your tiny preschooler has a will so strong that nothing can convince him to do what you say? He seems bent on living life on his own terms! When you have a strong-willed child, you may feel overwhelmed by their constant defiance and disobedience. The thought of making your toddler say "Yes" to something may feel unnerving. Should you be worried? Well, the answer is no. We know you're tired of listening to that word from your preschooler. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is that raising your spirited child can be a beautiful experience.
Scenario 1: Even after many reminders, your preschooler simply won't put his toys away. You asked him gently and firmly, you negotiated with him, and even scolded him, but nothing worked. You finally clear up the toys. And a few minutes later, your child takes out the toys, starts playing and his toys are now all over the room!
Scenario 2: You take your child to a grocery store and she wants a cupcake. You tell her to wait a few days. She screams "NO!" and begins to have a tantrum. Embarrassed by your child's behavior, you eventually buy her the cupcake.
While such moments involve never-ending power struggles between you and your child, the truth is that most preschoolers don't understand the power dynamics between you and them. At that age, your child is usually trying to figure out how much control he has over his life, how he can assert his independence. He's still discovering the world around him, and doesn't know right from wrong. The best thing to do would be to set reasonable limits within which his need to control his life can be acknowledged and fulfilled. Before we get into the how-to, let's first clarify one thing.
Most people label a strong-willed child, "stubborn", "difficult" or, unfortunately, even "bad". So, if your child defies you and doesn't want to do the things you ask, is he stubborn or strong-willed?
Avoiding both labels is best because children's personalities are evolving. Children who display stubborn behavior say no to things because they want their own way and will not budge from it. A child with a strong will reasons with you, knows what he wants and will stick to his opinion.
If you're raising a child who values her independence as much as she values you, that's not such a bad thing! Look at your child's positive qualities and you'll be able to treat her "stubbornness" more patiently. You will begin to see your preschooler thrive in an environment where she has more room for choices and exercising control, within limits of course.
With children who are strong-willed, parents will often find simple situations turning into conflicts. You may be tempted to yell and just get it done. Rest assured, this methodology is not sustainable and will not work in the long run.
The P.E.A.C.E (Pause, Empathize, Await, Communicate, Engage) method can be highly beneficial to turn a conflict situation into a moment of reflection, and can be used to help your child learn appropriate behaviour.
For example, let's take the first scenario in which your toddler refuses to put his toys away.
Step 1: PAUSE
Every time you feel the situation at hand is out of control, pause, take a step back and breathe. If you are emotionally triggered, you are more likely to react unpleasantly. Calm yourself down before you even attempt to calm him. This will help you take charge of your emotions and bring you to a state where your anger doesn't get the best of you.
Step 2: EMPATHIZE
When you start to view your child's defiance as a part of his innate being, you'll be able to connect with him. Here's how to deal with your strong-willed child more effectively.
? Change The Narrative
You may be thinking:
Now, could you possibly change the narrative and think from his perspective? His thoughts may be:
When you think from your child's point of view, you begin to appreciate the innocence behind it all, you begin to understand why he acts the way he does.
Step 3: AWAIT
Let him respond. You need to hear him out. Simply telling your child to stop playing is not enough. Reason with him once he's calm and more receptive. Telling him he's wrong, at a time when he's already triggered, may lead to more frustrations and arguments, which can be avoided with sheer patience.
Step 4: COMMUNICATE
Explain to him the consequences of having scattered toys all over the floor. Rather than saying "Clear up your toys", why not say, "Let's wind up playing so that no one steps on your toys".
Step 5: ENGAGE
Make it fun; use your creativity to make simple tasks a lot more meaningful. You can be playful and say, "I am the hungry basket. I am hungry. Feed me your blocks!" Or turn a boring task into a game, "I bet you can't make all your dolls sit in the dollhouse!" Come up with a song, a special high five or a little dance to help your preschooler feel that doing what's told can be fun too!
Award-winning author, feminist and children's rights advocate, LR Knost, once said, "Instant obedience and mindless compliance are poor goals, indeed, when raising children. A thoughtfully questioning, passionately curious and humorously resourceful child who wants to know why, who delights in inventing 'compromises', and who endlessly pushes the boundaries tends to grow into a thoughtful, passionate, resourceful adult who will change the world rather than being changed by the world."
Your strong-willed preschooler is brimming with inspiring qualities. So, recognizing her strengths can go a long way in making parenting more peaceful. Here are some positive character traits you may discover in your strong-willed child:
Let's look at the second scenario where your toddler is having a meltdown at the grocery store.
In most cases, your strong-willed preschooler doesn't want to be a spectator in any chore or task. She most likely wants to participate and make decisions. Hone her skills by involving her completely. Here are a few ways to do this:
Who doesn't love it when their child is well-behaved? At moments like these, parenting seems like a seamless process. However, even the most well-behaved child is bound to exhibit disobedience at some point. On the other hand, there are children who reason, question and use their strong will more often. Such a child is actually a blessing in disguise.
You may want your child to adjust to their surroundings. After all, the world doesn't function according to your child's will. However, the fact is that independent thinkers, if given autonomy to make their choices within reasonable limits, will not just be cooperative citizens, but also positive change makers who can make a difference.
While parenting a strong-willed child may seem difficult, here are some ways you can empower your child and, in return, develop a strong relationship with them:
While you may feel overwhelmed by the strong will of your preschooler, it will help if you recognize it as your child's need to explore his freedom and independence. Rewind to your childhood and recall the moments when you felt like nothing was going your way. That's probably what your child is feeling too! Rather than getting frustrated and caught up in a power battle every now and then, find a common ground for both your expectations and your child's need to assert their choice.
About the author:
Written by Saakshi Kapoor Kumar on 27 November, 2020
Ms. Kumar holds a Masters degree in Psychology from Ambedkar University, New Delhi and is working as a Senior Associate-Special Projects (Content Solutions Zone) at ParentCircle.
About the expert:
Reviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD on 27 November 2020
Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist and Parenting Coach at ParentCircle. She has a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia).
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