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The Challenges and Joys of Strong-Willed Kids

I have a strong-willed four-and-a-half-year-old.

There, I said it! I’ve resisted saying (out loud, anyway) that my son is strong-willed, spirited, or however you want to put it, because I’m not a fan of labels in general; also, I think I used to assume that strong-willed was just a euphemism for ill-tempered. My son is not that. He has thrown some spectacular tantrums in his time, but he is generally a happy, inquisitive little guy with a goofy sense of humor and a sensitive soul. But he definitely goes his own way. About a year ago, we signed him up for tot soccer, and in preparation my husband was trying to teach him the basics of the game (i.e. you kick the ball with your feet, and you don’t touch it with your hands). My son’s reply: “Well, I do. I can use my hands when I play soccer if I want to.” Once we actually got to the first session, he did none of the above, but instead ran off to the playground and played with a tennis ball.

When he has his heart set on something, there is almost no distraction under the sun that will deter him from his goal. More often than not, I believe that that goal is simply to WIN. He can engage in power struggles like nobody’s business. His negotiating tactics will almost surely land him a sales gig one day. There have been times when I’ve thought that I must be doing something terribly wrong, since most widely-used parenting tactics don’t tend to work with him. I’ve tried timeouts, but he refses to stay put in the designated area. I’ve tried consequences; last week I took away one of his “special” golf balls – his most prized possessions – and he responded by bringing me about 20 more of them, saying, “Here, why don’t you take these, too.” Sassy! And talk about undermining my intended consequence.

According to Dr. Laura Markham for Aha!, children with this temperament, though a challenge when they’re younger, become wonderful teenagers and young adults because of their solid personal integrity, inner direction and self-motivation. They have potential to be great leaders, and are much less likely to buckle under peer pressure (let’s hope this is true!) I’ve seen glimmers of these qualities in my son already, and I absolutely love his independence of spirit and the way he resolutely marches to his own drummer. He challenges me at every turn, but now that I’ve been reading up more on the topic of strong-willed kids, I’m appreciating him even more for who he is, and am resolving to try out these Ten Tips for Positive Parenting Your Strong-Willed, Spirited Child.

I’ve found that simply telling my son that I understand why he feels a certain way or wants to do a certain thing – in other words, empathizing – can go a long way in defusing a power struggle before it hits full force. He may still be disappointed when he can’t have his way, but knowing that I care about his feelings and preferences seems to help him get over it quicker. Also, making sure to spend quality time with him every day (one-on-one is ideal, like when his brother is napping) doing some activity that he chooses makes us both feel more connected to each other. And at the end of the day, a strong connection with my kids is always the ultimate goal.

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