I feel as though there should be a “DUM DUM DUUUUMMM!” in the title of this blog post. Parenting a strong-willed child can, at times, be scary and hairy. Single-parenting a strong-willed child can, very often, move you to take a long hard look at the possible upsides of alcoholism. For those of us who can’t afford the drink, there’s gentle parenting. One of my new favorite Facbeook pages, Family Focus Movement, posted an article this morning about strong-willed children, one of many that I’ve seen floating around about gentle parenting. According to this article, “A strong-willed child exhibits passionate defiance when his desires are denied, often testing the limits of a parent’s patience. In most cases, a willful child possesses a strong sense of entitlement, causing him to react with stubbornness and argumentativeness when his will is challenged.” This perfectly describes my 34-month-old daughter. My family thinks she rules my house, because my reaction to her behavior was “on hold” until I was secure that I know how to properly react, without causing emotional damage to my amazing little person.
Logan is defiant. If you say “red”, even if she wanted red in the beginning, she will change to blue just so as not to go along with you. She DEMANDS to help with household chores: fighting Sissy for the broom, dragging chairs to the kitchen sink to do dishes, screaming to take the vacuum cleaner from my hands; she cannot process when we say politely that we do not want help, just protests and protests and protests and protests. I usually just stop and look at her. I think to myself, “Why isn’t she understanding me? I’m being kind, and patient. Why can’t she see that I don’t need her help.” After months of working on this gentle parenting, I know why. When Logan screams, “I DO DISHES RIGHT NOW MOMMY, I NOT MAKE MISTAKE!”, she is saying to me, “Mommy, this is what you and Sissy do, and I want to be like both of you, and be around both of you. I am small but I feel like a big girl, and I can help you without doing it wrong. I’m so proud of myself, and I love it when you’re proud of me, and I want to show you how I do it so you can be more proud of me. I’ve already made up my mind that I need to help you and I cannot think of any reason why I shouldn’t be able to, since I am a big girl.” This is what I think of when she’s going against me, and not just about helping with chores. When she wants something her sister has, and I say it’s not her turn, I know her shrill, piercing cries mean, “This is SO unfair! I usually get what I want, especially from Sissy! You normally help me to get the things I want! I am so upset that I can’t play with that toy, it looks so fun, and I don’t have one!” This is not to say that I suddenly think every behavior my daughter displays is acceptable.
What it means is that I feel as though I finally know how to react. When I do this, speak as my daughter in my own head, think about how the situation looks from two feet high, I can respond in a way that takes into consideration all that she has “said.” I can feel secure that I am not reacting in a way that only “shuts her up,” but lets her know that I care for her and that I am trying to understand how difficult being a toddler can be. This is where the vodka calls. As a single mom, I never thought I’d have the time necessary to devote this much attention to my toddler’s every action. With a strong-willed child, just about every interaction requires the parent to pause, and strategize, and pray, and cry…wait, the last two may just be me. Sorry. Back to all of us – it can and does get better, and easier to enact. First of all, I actually did pray for the patience to remember to STOP and think about why my child is doing, not what my child is doing. So whomever you believe in, ask him/her/it for help. I educated myself, which gave me the resolve to keep at it and not get discouraged if I had a setback. Once I learned just how fragile children are (something I remembered anyway), and started to appreciate how critical understanding our child’s point of view is to responding to them in the most loving way possible, I wasn’t going to settle for anything less than success. Or vodka. But again, vodka costs U.S. dollars so I went with success.
Finally, I started doing it. At first it was weird, like, “Um…Logan, I uh – well okay, you’re screaming and spitting right now so you must be kinda heated, huh? Oh, um- heated means -well, that’s not important, what’s important is that, oh, ow- please don’t throw the remote, mommy’s head is sensitive -” Awkwaaaaard. I kept at it. I started to arrange my day so that I was doing things Lo would want to help with, when I knew she’d be preoccupied or napping. It would be nice if I could walk slowly through every household chore, but I am two parents in one, and sometimes, I just need to get things done. I’ve mastered the arts of redirection and distraction. I get on my knees, speak more softly, ask questions that show I understand, “That is a really nice toy, isn’t it? Do you want to go see if we have one like that in your room?” I am firm, but I am kind. I don’t spank, EVER. I don’t yell. I don’t sound cross. I remain even, even when I’m letting her know a certain behavior is unacceptable. “Logan, I know that you are mad at Sissy, and it is okay for you to feel mad, but we cannot hit. Why don’t you ask her if you can take turns playing?” And she gets it. Not always. Not nearly always. In fact, most times, she still wants what she wants.
The difference is, the screaming has stopped. And my frustration has lessened. And Ryleigh’s (my eldest) resentment has lessened. The entire household is more peaceful. Taking the extra time necessary to be gentle has, in the long run, given me more time to be a parent. I can go sit on my bed for 5 minutes without hearing a melt down happen, because when I’m gentle, my children follow my lead, and are better able to resolve their issues together. It is frustrating in the beginning, especially when there’s no one around to help you or listen to you vent, and some days you may not reach your goals. Don’t stop trying. Your children will appreciate when you apologize and get back on track. In the past 6 months I have noticed a big difference in the way my children and I communicate, and in our bond, which was already very good. I’m not done. We can do it, parents. Here’s to staying on the wagon.