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How to Handle a Strong-Willed Child

The Only Way I've Successfully Soothed My Strong-Willed Child Is With a Little Calm

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As all parents of strong-willed kids know, each day can be quite difficult. They fight us on just about everything, and their torpedo-like velocity is, well, exhausting. Some days, it feels as though we're gearing up for battle — a battle with someone we love more than anything in the world. And while it can be hard to maintain our composure with these explosive little souls, I've found that the only way to get through to them is with gentleness. Otherwise, your whole day is in ruins.

Just the other morning, for example, my strong-willed child grew upset about something. Honestly, I have no idea what, but I thought, "I need to nip this now or this will be the longest day ever." As the stress climbed up my shoulders, I wanted to yell, to let her know that her behavior is not okay. But since it wasn't my first rodeo, I also knew that that would backfire.

So, I took a few deep breaths after she marched into her room. I heard loud sobs and even a few objects ricocheting against the walls. I took a couple more breaths. Silence swelled. Once I knew I could stay composed, I pushed her already-cracked door open. She sat on her floor crying softly. "Can we talk?" I asked. "No!" she said. I responded, "Ok, well, I'm just going to sit here for a bit, is that okay with you?" She shouted back: "No!" But then, her shoulders softened. She paused. "Well, okay," she said. But I do NOT want to talk." "That's fine." I said, as I nudged a little closer. "Do you mind if I sing to you?" She relented, "Welllll, okay."

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So, I began to sing to her "You Are My Sunshine" in my croaky voice. My strong-willed child nuzzled into me and I cradled her like she was a toddler again. We talked about how her feelings are valid, but that it's not okay to explode onto others like that. She sat and looked at me, nodded her head, and her lips turned upward. We sat like that for a bit, just the two of us, forgiving one another without any words at all.

Over the years, I've discovered that with strong-willed kids there's a fine line between getting walked on and teaching them that those big emotions are okay to have. They just have to learn how to express them. And after talking with Haley Sztykiel, LMSW, SSW, and family therapist, turns out, I'm onto something. "Staying calm with a strong willed child helps to avoid a power struggle," Sztykiel told POPSUGAR. "A calm approach helps to model successful behavior for problem solving and conflict resolution." So far in my parenting journey, I can definitely see this to be true. In fact, the only thing I've found that works is gentleness. But that doesn't make it easy.

When I'm harsh with daughter, things escalate quickly. They go from her being upset to a freaking tsunami whirling around in our family room. My failure to remain calm gives my strong-willed child the green light to unload in an unhealthy way. I mean, she's emulating me, after all.

But when I breathe, it allows my child to try to do the same thing, too. I wish I could say that I always had the patience to act how I did in the above scene. I don't. I often lose my temper and scold her too harshly in an attempt for a quick fix. However, that never works and often just sends the wheels catapulting off.

The truth is that all kids, even strong-willed kids, deserve to be heard. This is hard work. While these explosive souls take more patience, I believe that if we remember to breathe, the payoffs just might change the world.

Image Source: Getty / Maskot
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