win decisively

Nate being still and quiet in church
part 3 of 3 - read the preview here, part 1 here, and part 2 here
Disclaimer: if I reference the strong-willed child as a "he" it's not because this doesn't apply to girls, but simply because I have no daughters. 

Win decisively. If you have decided a particular behavior is worth the battle, you must win. If you start a battle with your strong-willed child, then get tired and give in, they are learning that they are tougher than you are - and they will be even more determined to fight you. And they will win more and more often.

Nate is absolutely tougher than I am. But I can't let him know that! Though I am not strong-willed by nature, I put on a strong-willed facade when I decide that his behavior needs correcting. It's not natural for me, it's not pleasant, it's extremely tiring, but in the end it is necessary.
  1. Establish boundaries. It is unfair to expect a child to know how to behave and to punish him for violating an undefined rule. With a 4 or 5 year old (and older), you can sit down and explain what you expect from them. If you have a toddler, it's going to take some time (and lots of energy on your part) to teach them how to behave. We recently had a family conference with the kids, during which we discussed family rules and consequences. We also initiated a rewards chart, through which they can earn a treat after a week of good attitudes about everything, which is something Dr Dobson suggested for Nate's age group (and Nate is really into it).

    When Nate was a toddler, one of my biggest battles was getting him to behave in church service. There is no nursery here, so the only option is for the kids to stay in the service. Most of them are unchecked and disruptive, but I don't want mine to join that trend. We tell them that they need to stay near the bench (they can sit on the bench or floor or stand) and cannot make noise. We give them quiet activities to keep them occupied. We let them run around before the service, and they dance during the worship time to get some of their energy out so that they are able to stay semi-still and quiet. There are consequences if they don't.
  2. Display confidence and decisiveness. For example, if I've offered 2 options, and Nate decides to choose neither, I speak to him firmly, and I implement our previously-defined consequence for the behavior. (Which is me choosing for him, and he just has to live with it.)

    Here's a confession: There is a mistake I make regularly. I don't really want to give consequences. A lot of times, I will try to convince Nate to comply instead of automatically applying the consequence. It never works. It causes me more frustration and makes him more resolute. This is not really winning, even if I do eventually give the consequence. It's certainly not winning decisively. It is so much better to just give the consequence, without trying to bargain or convince your kid to comply. There are times for trying to reason with the child, but when he has set his will against me, we are beyond that point. I need to just give the consequence.
  3. Enforce your consequences. Especially when you're first starting to get things under control, and especially with a toddler, this is the part that takes so much energy. This is the standing-in-the-hall-putting-your-kid-back-in-bed-every-time-they-get-out-for-4-hours-after-bedtime stuff. In order to discipline, you have to be disciplined. If you stick to your consequences consistently, your kid will learn. He will still defy you because it's fun, he wants his own way, and he is tireless when it comes to conflict. But you will also begin to see genuine obedience, which is beautiful.

    I'm not going to tell you which consequences are "best" because there is no best here - it's all relative to you and your kids. And some consequences work better for a single child at one age, and others work better as they grow up. I believe kids learn a lot from natural and logical consequences, but in some cases of defiance, there isn't a natural or logical consequence that you can use. (Like: if you run away from me in the parking lot, you will get run over by a car. It's a natural consequence, sure, but not good parenting.) All I can say is that the consequence should be unpleasant enough that it discourages the behavior, and you may have to try multiple consequences or change the consequences over time. In The New Strong Willed Child, there is a testimonial/story told by a mom and her strong willed daughter about the daughter's stealing phase. The daughter admitted that she knew she'd be punished for stealing, but she didn't care. Eventually, it was so out of hand that her parents looked for advice from church elders. They began having their daughter confess and make restitution to everyone she stole from. For her, this was far more unpleasant than any punishment they had ever used! And she stopped stealing. So you see, it may take some creativity.
In part 1, I mentioned that I realized I don't have what it takes to be Nate's mom when he was just shy of 18 months old. Even with all my practice, I still don't have what it takes. I never will and not just because I have a compliant personality. I will boast gladly in my weakness because His power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, when I am weak, then I am strong! 

I'm not going to tell you "Keep going! Be strong! You can do it!" And I don't think God would say that either. He says, "Keep going! Be strong! I can do it, and I am with you!" (Click those 4 links and read the verses, then continue.)

You may not think raising 1 kid could be as important as any of the tasks these men were assigned. However this is something God has given you to do, and he will be with you just the same!


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