What to do with a “Strong-Willed Child”
I have what conventional parenting experts call a “strong willed child.” My daughter’s propensity for following her own will in the moment is probably a combination of nature and nurture. I have sneaking suspicion, especially after learning about Conscious Parenting in Amy’s recent series, that with or without my influence, she was going to follow the beat of her own drummer, no matter who or what tried to stop her. Perhaps I only poured gasoline on the already strong fire burning within her when, as soon as she could walk, and before she could speak in full sentences, I was teaching her that she had a choice, and that her yes meant yes and her no meant no.
Now four years old, I have jokingly lamented to friends and family that I have “created a beast”- a child full of self-will run riot. Cooped up in the house over the Summer like so many of you, attempting to work and care for her, I found myself growing snippy and irritable at her incessant chatter and resistance to my efforts to direct her activities.
Busting Common Parenting Myths
I realize now that I was falling into the trap of some of the parenting myths that Amy and her fellow Conscious Parenting coaches are illuminating this Fall in Soul Path Parenting’s new series URL HERE. Some of the myths they’ve busted so far are:
Myth #1 Parenting Is About the Child
Myth #2 A Successful Child Is Ahead of the Curve
Myth #3 There are Good and Bad Children
The more I tried to shape and control my daughter, the more she rebelled and the “worse” she acted, purposefully creating messes and mayhem. It wasn’t until I wised up and realized that I was the one causing the dynamic, not her, that the situation began to heal.
As Conscious Parenting Coach Tilley Fine says in Episode 36, “Conscious Parenting is the shift in paradigm that the parent is in charge and in control and dictates and leverages what the child needs to do on a day-to-day basis. Whereas, the reality is that kids are brought to us to mirror what is missing inside of us and what parts of us internally need to heal.”
When the Parent Gets Out of the Way
As a recovering control freak, one of my personal, daily spiritual practices is to stay awake in each moment, and to quickly notice when I’m trying to run the show. When I do, I say a quick prayer and turn the situation over to my higher power. You see, I’ve learned that when I think I know best, that’s probably my ego thinking it’s the best. And usually, that doesn’t lead to the most optimal outcome. It’s when I remember to let go in faith and trust that there is a higher wisdom alive in each moment, and that it’s got my back if I simply stop and listen, that things start to flow.
Practicing Conscious Parenting is a lot like that, especially when it come to breaking out of the common myths that can trap us a parents.
Here’s what I did with my daughter that lead to a substantial shift in the dynamic between us, and in her behavior.
- I stopped calling her “bad behavior” out by saying things like, “Could you just be quiet for one minute!” and “Stop! You’re wild!” and “I’m too busy,” or “I’ll be there in a minute,” or “I can’t look right now,” or “Do you want to watch a show on your iPad? (i.e. I can’t take it/you any more, I must plug you in!)
- I started quieting myself and listening to her. I won’t lie, I had to do some rigorous self-practices to get calm and stay open, and I wasn’t always perfect at it, but I made a major change in my way of relating and being in the space.
- Once I slowed down, and got calm (once I become the change I wanted to see), my perspective on my daughter shifted, almost immediately. I actually cried when I realized how much of her amazing pre-school-age imagination and wonder I had missed when I was irritated, and complaining to people that I had a kid “who never shuts up.”
- When I started engaging in her world, and simply allowing her to express – even when her flights of imagination seemed completely foreign to me, I began to let go too. I let go of time, I let go of “that doesn’t make sense,” I let go of “we ‘should’ do this or we ‘shouldn’t’ do that,” and I saw that I was full of assumptions about how the word is supposed to be because it’s time for this or the weather’s doing that. It was eye opening!
- When my daughter experienced me as open, listening and paying attention – a Conscious Parenting coach might call this “being present in the moment” my daughter’s whining, shouting, poking, throwing things, spilling things, painting things, and melting down almost entirely disappeared.
My Daughter the Tennis Player
I also noticed that, trapped at home and not participating in all the scheduled group activities like gymnastics, soccer, dance and yoga, my daughter has had the opportunity – by default, not by any genius parenting skills of mine – to create and choose her own activities. My practice is to restrain myself and my inherent urge to structure her time for her – and simply let it be ok that she do what lights her up, in her own way.
A great example of this is how we “play tennis.” We have a middle-school near our home where we can safely go and play as a family during the current pandemic. I was so excited when my daughter marched onto the court with her miniature racket and a can of balls. I was secretly thinking to myself, “this is awesome we’re starting her at age 4, she’s my little Sherapova!” BTW, this is exactly what Conscious Parenting cautions us against!
Within 10 minutes my daughter had tired of my “drill” where I tossed balls like a machine over the net for her to hit. She threw down her racket and refused to “play.” Her dad and I were just starting to get frustrated enough where I could see a potential parental scolding coming and the subsequent meltdown, that I turned it around fast.
“What do you want to play right now?” I asked my daughter.
“I’ll be the grown up and you the kid and I’ll throw to you,” she said.
And now, that’s how we play “tennis” most days we go. She throws balls to me and I hit and retrieve them. She loves it and I get a great workout.
Will she ever want to learn the sport? Maybe. Maybe not. Who cares? We’re having fun.
38: “Parenting Myth #2: A Successful Child is Ahead of the Curve – Magaly Medina-Colon, Delia Garcia-Rembao, Cheryl Polsky