Tonight a friend called and asked me to watch her handsome 1 year old baby boy for a few hours. We’ve had numerous play dates with him. My daughter loves baby D and treats him like a little brother. So I thought: “No big deal! By now (with Anna being close to 2.5 years old) I should probably have a black belt in watching 1-year olds.”
Well… today was the day I realized how easy I have it with my daughter! Don’t get me wrong, baby D was fine playing and going along with his plans for the night. It’s my plans of feeding or bathing everyone preferably at relatively the same time that he had some problems with. And unlike Anna with whom I can usually negotiate, he made sure we all understood that my plan was cutting in front of his. Baby D has a strong will and it takes a lot of patience and adjustment on the caregiver’s side to make things work for both. He is also very strong. At 1 year old he is MUCH stronger than my 2.5 year old! And I am not kidding! The moves and twists he performs when you try to change his diaper or when he tries to escape from the high chair are no joke. I’d call them “stay away or get a bruise” moves!
Luckily, my husband was home and was very helpful with both kids. There were times when I desperately cried for help. Like when I was covered in baby D’s oatmeal and he was trying to escape the high chair, for example. It was a good reminder for me of how easy it is to disregard the unique character each child has. We cannot apply a cookie-cutter parenting method to all children. We must accept and adapt to each personality to make our relationships work. A little help from our loved ones changes the world though!
Overall, to my surprise, we all did great. A few battles here and there, but everyone was successfully fed, bathed, and still had a big smile on. However, I must say to you – moms of strong-willed children – I have a new level of respect and compassion for you. I admire your patience and flexibility. Next time I see you, I‘d be sure to offer some help. Now, I get you!
Here are 7 lessons from tonight and into the future that will help guiding the strong-willed child and avoid power struggles. These helped us, but feel free to modify to suit your child needs.
7 Tips on Parenting a Strong-Willed Child
1. Clear Rules and Consequences
Set the rules and enforce them. The child will constantly test you, so don’t be shy to follow through. Clear boundaries and routines make even a strong-willed child feel safe and in control.
2. Give Advance Notice
As adults like to know the plan ahead of time as it makes us feel in control. So give your child an advance warning so he has time to switch his mind from what he is doing now and has an easier time adjusting.
3. Give Options
Most people don’t like being told what to do, so try giving some choices. Just make sure you agree with both options. For example, instead of telling your child to eat, try asking if he prefers to feed himself or you feeding him.
4. Experience to Mastery
Most children have to experience everything for themselves in order to learn and master a skill. Once you make peace with this and make sure your child in not in danger, relax and let him explore. Messes can be cleaned up, kids can be washed, and most things can be fixed. As a result you will have one happy and proud child; as well as you will save your nerves and relationship with the child.
5. Disregard Tantrums
A tantrum is a cry for attention. And some love is generally in order. However, if you are certain the child is not hurt or in danger, don’t fall for the wet eyes and give in to the tantrum. Stick to your rules and consequences. This is the only way to maintain healthy boundaries.
6. Listen with Respect and Consider His Point of View
Many times we get so busy that we may forget things we’ve promised to our children or we are just in a hurry to deal with emotions of our little one. In both examples the child has a full right to be upset because he is not allowed to break his promises to us or ignore someone else’s hurt feelings. In these cases, you have to model the behavior you expect. Apologize profusely or listen empathetically to his point of view, assure him that you will do your best to keep your promises and show your love. It may be difficult for the very little ones to express their emotions, so you need to help them verbalize what they may be upset about, and you will notice the crying will stop when child feels understood.
Reward behaviors you would like to maintain, and ignore the behaviors you would like to eradicate. Most children react well to positive attention and strive to repeat this behavior to receive more praise.
If you have any other tips on managing a strong-willed child, please share them below in the comments. I will be happy to hear your success stories!