So you have a strong-willed child? Now what?

The sun was too bright for our Thanksgiving family pictures
in this location, but that's not why we didn't any good pictures
that year! Incidentally, my top 3 tips for portraits with a
strong willed child are: 1) bribery, 2) bribery, 3) bribery.
part 1 of 3 - read the preview here, part 2, part 3

When I was pregnant with Nate, he never liked for the doctor to find his heartbeat. He always wiggled away from it, which I think is fairly normal. However, when he was big enough, he would actually kick and/or hit the doppler to get it away from him, and he was strong enough that it usually worked. That was my first clue.

He was about 24 hours old when I knew for sure he was stronger willed than me. He was not quite 18 months old when I felt like I was in over my head, that I didn't have what it takes to be the mom of such a strong willed child.

Now he's 5, and I say it's a good thing my first-born is strong willed. Yes, you read that right. It is a good thing.

We don't have an objective way to measure strength of will. (Well maybe someone has developed a Will Quotient?) When we say someone is strong willed, we are using our perspective and comparison. I am pretty sure Ben is also stronger willed than I am. If he had been my first born, I would have thought of him as strong willed. But he isn't - not compared to Nate and Rodgers, at least. This is why I say it is a good thing that my strong willed son is my first born. If Ben had been first, I still would have been out of my depth with Nate, but I would have felt in over my head with both kids. As it is, Ben is much easier on me! (Not actually easy, you know, just easier.)

One thing I have learned from being married to a strong willed person is that strong willed people actually enjoy conflict. It's fun for them. Yes, Nate will defy me because of his intense need for control, but he also does it because it's entertaining. This is such a foreign concept for me. Conflict is uncomfortable and so tiring. But I watch Rodgers when he is getting ready to confront someone, and he's having fun. He's exhilarated. He's enjoying himself.

When Nate was 2, I came across a copy of Dr James Dobson's The New Strong-Willed Child. I snatched it up and devoured it. Two things at the beginning of the book got me hooked.

There was a video on YouTube (this was not in the book, but it will be relevant) of a father stopping his toddler's tantrums by asking her to make animal sounds. And she stopped screaming to make the animal sounds. I thought to myself, "This kid has no resolve at all." But I tried it anyway. The screaming just got louder and more determined, no animal sounds were made. My kid would not be tricked into stopping his tantrum. Dobson talks about how parents who don't have any strong-willed children don't have any idea what it's like. These people assume that your kid is out of control because you aren't parenting well, and they will give you "tips" which never work for your kid. I felt so validated reading this part of the book. These parents whose kids seem easier to handle than Nate aren't doing something better than me - their kids really are easier to handle than mine is. I'm not just inept or insane!

A few pages later, he describes the difficulty compliant mothers have with defiant children. Dads can get kids to mind sometimes when moms can't. That testosterone is rather threatening. But if the mom is also more compliant, she has an extra challenge. Thank you, thank you, for recognizing my struggle!

While I agree that it is excessively difficult, I believe compliant parents are in a unique position to discipline defiant children well because we're reluctant to engage in the battle of wills and we will seek out more effective strategies when possible. Rodgers would engage every time, and he'd have a blast doing it. I try to exercise a little wisdom and understanding to determine if this is my battle to fight and if so, how best to do that. If I do decide to engage Nate in a battle of wills, I have to win.

My two key strategies are derived from Dr Dobson's book. I already gave away the first one in the previous post: Choose your battles. My second strategy: Win decisively.

to be continued...

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