Enjoying Your Strong-Willed Children
If you ask any parent in this country today if they want to enjoy their children, they will look at you as if you're crazy. "Enjoy my own kids? Of course I want to enjoy them. I love my kids. They're only going to be living with me for a short time."
These comments reflect parents' appreciation of their children as small, precious creatures who can be incredibly cute and adorable. But if you've been a parent for any length of time, you know these priceless little beings can also be incredibly difficult. They can whine, tantrum, and tease their sibs; they can refuse to eat, do their homework, pick up, or stay in bed. At these times, you still love your children, but they are definitely not enjoyable to be with.
This is especially true of strong-willed kids. Strong-willed children take the battle to you and will severely test you to see if you know what you're doing!
What's Your Strategy?
To maximize the fun times with your kids, you need efficient strategies for managing and resolving the bad times. But often, we parents don't think of what we're doing in any given situation as a strategy. If it's bedtime, you tell your child to go to bed. If he resists (which strong-willed kids do), you give him reasons why he should go to bed. If he still resists (which strong-willed kids love to do), you persuade or argue. It's not rocket science, you think. Where's the need for a fancy "strategy"? The job is simple and straightforward—the kid should do what he's told.
Another way of saying this is: when the kids don't do what we'd like them to, we parents often simply talk—we default to reasoning. What's wrong with that? Well, let's take a look. Here's a common scene:
It's 6:15 p.m., and Picky Pete is not eating his dinner. Picky Pete is a tough cookie.
Mom: Come on, Peter. Let's get going.
Peter: I'm not hungry.
Dad: What did you have to eat after school?
Peter: Not that much.
Dad: Then how come you're not eating?
Peter: I am eating!
Mom: No you’re not.
Peter: We never have anything I like.
Silence. Frustrated parents look at each other and continue eating.
Peter: Why do I have to eat this stuff?
Mom: Because you want to grow up to be big and strong. You need energy.
Peter: But I don't like any of it.
Mom: OK, if you don't finish, there will be no dessert and nothing else to eat before bed. Do you understand?
Alicia (Peter's sister): I like what we're having.
Peter: Oh, shut up!
Dad: Peter, you've got five minutes to finish.
Peter: Dog food's better than this junk!
Dad: Up to your room right now, young man! That's no way to talk to anyone!
Peter stomps up to his room. Alicia takes another big bite.
At this point, no one is enjoying anyone else's company—or their dinner!
That's where talking can get you, especially with stubborn children. Sound like your home? Talk, persuade, argue, and sometimes yell or even hit. A lot of physical child abuse, believe it or not, starts with an attempt to talk at the wrong time.
A Different Approach
What can you do with stubborn children that doesn't involve a lot of useless parental prattle or arguing, yelling, or spanking? First, we need to identify the problem. The problem is a child not eating. Next, we need to look for alternative strategies for a picky eater. How to do that? Here are two choices: Google or 1-2-3 Magic. Yes, you heard right. Google "picky eaters" and you'll get a bazillion sites. Carefully go through a few, see if they apply to you, then choose one to try. Really work at doing things differently—and work hard to find a method that does not involve a lot of chattering.
Or go to chapter 15 in 1-2-3 Magic, titled “Surviving Suppertime.” There, you'll learn that you need a prearranged routine for mealtimes. There are two suggestions: small portions and a kitchen timer or the three-out-of-four rule. Pick one and try it out—but you are not allowed to remind or nag during dinner! Nagging to strong-willed kids is like putting a match to a bomb.
What if your problem is sibling rivalry? Same deal. Google "sibling rivalry" and you'll get ideas from KidsHealth, Psychology Today, WebMD, Ask Dr. Sears, the Raising Children Network, and the Center for Parenting Education. Carefully go through these and pick one that sounds good to you. Don't just keep ragging at the kids every time they tease or fight.
Sibling rivalry in 1-2-3 Magic? You betcha. Look at chapter 8 and you'll find this advice: count both kids unless one is the obvious aggressor, never ask the world's two most ridiculous questions, and never expect an older child to act more mature during a fight than a younger one.
Want to enjoy your tough, obstinate children more? You need effective tactics for those difficult discipline moments. Parent prattle is not an option! Get off the yak-yak-yak treadmill and find something that works better. A little research-oriented elbow grease will be worth its weight in gold!