Rear them right

Published On: July 9, 2016 12:25 AM NPT By: Usha Pokharel

Remember that your strong-willed children are not being difficult on purpose. That’s the way they are
Social gatherings provide me with a useful glimpse of what parents think about their children and what bothers them. Recently, I have noticed more and more parents having a hard time raising their children. At one gathering the other day, I heard two mothers talk about their children. One of them was worried for not being able to handle her strong-willed child. She was complaining and was wondering what she could do to handle her ‘difficult and stubborn’ young child. But what makes a child strong-willed?

Being ‘stubborn’ and ‘difficult’ do not make a strong willed-child, though they are the early indicators. Some children are born willful. So willful that they will push away the spoon when fed and, as infants, they are difficult to comfort. They keep crying even when they are well fed and rested. When these kids grow into toddlers, they become even more disagreeable. Nothing seems right to them. They always demand to have their way, and refuse to cooperate even a bit. I can see a few of you shaking heads. I know it is difficult.

So as they grow and start school, matters seem to worsen, so far as handling them is concerned. Tantrums become regular. As they grow, they turn deaf ears to your simple requests and instead argue with you and defy your orders.  

All this makes you feel you are one unlucky parent! Then again, I would say you are one lucky parent. Surprised? Don’t be. Your child may be very challenging now, but if you are sensitive and do a good parenting job and not give in to your impulse to ‘break your child’s will’, then when they grow up, to your surprise, to be terrific teens and excellent young adults. They will make you a proud parent. They are self-motivated and go after what they want and they have the capacity to resist peer pressure. So think of your parenting now as a future investment.

Before we get into the topic of parenting a strong-willed child, we need to evaluate what we consider as the downside to our child’s behavior and convert it into something positive. Yes, it’s easier said than done. But let us consider that your child is not just “difficult” or “stubborn” or “strong-willed”, they are also children of integrity who aren’t easily swayed by your viewpoints. They are spirited and courageous and are not afraid to take risks to learn first-hand and not accept what others say. They want to be in charge, and often also desire to be right about what they say and do.

You may also have noticed that when they decide on something, they have a hard time switching gears and doing something else. These children live passionately and have a life that is fully under their control. In the process there is often power struggles between parents and children.  

Under such circumstances, parents need to create a ‘win-win’ situation, for both themselves and the children and avoid such power struggle. The other thing to do to avoid power struggles is set up rules and routines with your child that both of you can abide by. That will make life much easier. Follow that with a motto of not pushing your child into opposing you because force creates push-back. Instead, remember that if you push to win a battle with your child, you will lose the most important part: your invaluable relationship with your child.

Also remember that as a parent you don’t have to respond to every argument that you are drawn into. Just take a deep breath and refrain from reacting, thus avoiding being led by your four-year-old into acting like a four-year-old yourself! But the question is: What else you can do to make good your future investment?

According to experts, there are specific ways to deal with strong-willed children. To start with, always keep in mind that strong-willed children are experiential learners. Unless it’s a health hazard, let them learn through their experience. That is more effective. At the same time be prepared for your child to test your limits time and again. That is how they learn. Knowing this will help you save your relationship with your child. You will understand that your child does not like to take orders from you. They want to be in charge. Don’t nag them to get things done and let them take charge of their own activities. If they are in charge they will be less resistant to suggestions. Instead of orders, give them choices that will make them feel good and in charge of the situation. Let them decide small things about themselves.

If you see they are on the verge of making a wrong decision, be suggestive and tell them what you would do in their situation. If you see they are having a hard time going back on their decision, give them the option and a feeling that sometimes it’s okay to change their mind. Once they realize that they will not lose face by changing their mind they will easily comply with your suggestion. At the same time try and make it clear that if you respect their feelings, they need to do the same with your feelings.    

Finally, just remember that your strong-willed children are not being difficult on purpose; that’s the way they are. Given the opportunity to lead, take charge and choose, they love to cooperate, but if forced to obey, they feel humiliated and feel their integrity is being compromised. If this bothers you because you feel obedience is important, then think for the sake of your child. Your children will obey you, not because you are bigger, stronger and can use force, but when they trust you.

So learn to channel their stubbornness, and instead of hating it, embrace it, and move forward. You want your children to be responsible, considerate and cooperative. That’s not so difficult.

The writer is an educationist and author of several children’s books

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