Are You As Strong-Willed As Your Strong-Willed Child?
It had cooled down to about 80 on the patio and Lily wanted to play “restaurant.” She put on her skates, grabbed a tablet and pen and skated around “taking orders” from make-believe people. Very soon I will be reminded that I am parenting strong-willed children.
Me: I think I will stop for a cold drink. Do you have a chair for another customer?
Lily: Yes. Please come in. We are so happy you are here. What would you like ma’am?
Me: I think I would just like something cold to drink. What’s that orange drink called with the ice cream in it?
Lily: I think you should eat something.
Me: Oh, no thank you. I will just have that cold drink.
Lily: No, I will bring you a hamburger with mustard and mayo. And corn on the cob.
Me: Really, I just want something to drink.
Lily: You are getting a hamburger. And corn on the cob.
Me: Seriously, I don’t think wait staff does that. Anywhere. Ever.
Lily, getting excited and flailing around on her skates, arms flapping like a bird: Well, we do that here.
Me: Hmmm (wondering if this is a teachable moment for strong-willed children and deciding it is not): Okay, if you promise it is really good, you may bring me food with my drink. What is the name of that orange drink with the ice cream?
Lily: I don’t know. I’ll call it IRIS.
Me: And why not?
Lily: One hamburger, corn on the cob and orange slushee IRIS coming up. That will be two cents.
Except for the pushy wait staff, this place is outstanding!
While this was a game, it demonstrated to me once again that I was parenting a strong-willed child. When that strong-willed behavior is at its worst, it is sometimes difficult to “chill,” as teens say.
It’s hard to deal with your child’s emotions fully when you are struggling with your own to keep yourself calm and respond properly. So the first thing we need to do is have a plan in place that results in our being calm before we address behaviors. Remember STAY CALM, STAY CALM, STAY CALM. How do you do that?
House Rules Chart for Strong-Willed Children
My first recommendation is make a prominent House Rules chart before you get to the point of dealing with troublesome behaviors. House rules have helped hundreds of families let their children know what is expected of them.
We think our children know what is expected of them, but they don’t always know that. Even the Bible says to write down those important things people need to know. In Habakkuk 2:2 we read: “Write the vision “And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it.” (KJV)
In this case, everyone needs to know the house rules so they don’t violate them without knowing. It’s not a difficult task. Get a chalk board or a white board or even a piece of paper for this activity.
I find that white boards and chalk boards tend to get erased, or the rules are modified to say the exact opposite of what was there. I like to make the list on paper, make several copies, and post it on the refrigerator.
It is also possible to have your children help you make this list. When kids identify their own behaviors, they are sometimes more willing to modify them.
What Does A House Rules Chart Contain?
First rule at the top always is :
- Come to me first when you feel unsafe or out of control. If your child will do that, you may be able to mitigate the after effects of being bullied at school, or getting a low grade on a paper, or not being picked on a team or breaking a favorite toy. Emphasize this to your children. Remind them that you are the one they can trust with their trials and triumphs.
Besides that one, I do 7 of the Power-Up House Rules that you absolutely need to start on your list. But I don’t know what they are. This is where you take charge.
Start by thinking about the things that you see going on in your house. Also think about logical and meaningful consequences (not punishment) for breaking each rule.
- Do you see hitting and biting? Item 2 on your House Rules list will say: Show respect by not hitting and not biting. (Framed semi-positively rather than writing NO HITTING AND NO BITING.) Consequence: Apology, restriction from electronics for ______ hours. (For example)
- Does your child throw things? Number three is not NO throwing. Instead, put this on your list: Instead of throwing something when angry, be aware of what is in your hand and set it down. Consequence: Repair or replace anything damaged.
- How about one sibling taking the other’s things? Be respectful of others’ property. If it isn’t yours ask before touching it. Consequence: Do one of the other person’s chores.
- Lying? Be a truth teller. (This one has been on every House Rules chart I have ever had as I parented 16 children.) Consequence: Making it right, either by verbally apologizing to whomever he/she lied to or writing an apology letter. Because I am tough sometimes, three lies equal the loss of a privilege.
- Your child a slob? Help with responsibilities around the house, including picking up after yourself in the kitchen, bathroom and your room. (It helps if you are a role model for this) Consequence: Until the area is cleaned up, there are no electronics or outside play.
- Taking it out on the dog or cat? Be kind to the animals. Consequence: You clean the cat tray twice or be a pooper scooper in the back yard being the dog. (Clearly this consequence is not for everyone and definitely not for very young children.)
This is a good place to slip in the thought that when you see your children making good choices, it is very appropriate to praise them.
How Does a House Rules Chart Work In Real Life for Strong-Willed Children?
So your first discipline tool is your House Rules Chart. Why is it important? Let’s think about when your son takes your daughter’s doll and threatens to throw it into the toilet.
Because my goal is to stay calm as I address this behavior, I know most of my reaction to this behavior has already been done through the House Rules. Instead of looking at that doll and remembering what I paid for it, or thinking about my devastated daughter if the doll does indeed take a swim in the toilet, I stay calm and I simply say to my son, “ Please give the doll back to your sister.’
Is he going to do that the first time you ask? Probably not. Say it again. As long as you are calm every time you say it, chances are increased that he will simply give the doll back. You can expect an attitude, but you are calm.
As a result, I can say, “Susie you may leave the room.” I turn to my son:
Son, you know that the House Rules chart say that you don’t take other people’s property. Therefore, I now have no choice but to give you a consequence for breaking that rule. We have decided that breaking that rule results in getting an additional chore.
It would be appropriate for you to sweep the kitchen floor today since it is your sister’s chore, and you are showing her you are sorry. I know you have some plans for this evening, and you may go after you do this chore. Perhaps next time you are tempted to do something like that, you can remember the House Rules first.
I sound like the perfect parent, don’t I? Well, I am not. And the conversation isn’t always that well regulated, but the results are the same.
Am I Angry?
Nope. Am I the heavy, in this situation? Nope. Writing down the rules and posting them took the burden off me to deal with behaviors when I am short tempered.
Furthermore, you may have strong-willed children who are very aware of how their behavior affects others. They may be truly remorseful if they break a rule even before you mention something about it to them. In that event, you will respond with a discussion.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a behavior may NOT be a recurring behavior and therefore may not be on the house rules chart, for instance, being disrespectful. Because a child may not often be disrespectful, I may say, “I believe that is breaking an understood rule for our family. Did you want to apologize for being disrespectful or do you want me to impose a consequence for breaking that rule?”
Very few teens and even fewer younger children will choose the consequence. They may snort, “I’m sorry!” and walk away. That isn’t acceptable because they may not be sorry, or they are sorry they got caught.
Therefore, I have taught them to say instead, “I apologize.” I let them know afterward that I am pleased with their decision and will be there to help them if they will come to me and let me know they are having some difficulty.
Finally, parenting strong-willed children is a unique challenge that we will be discussing in future blogs. Stay tuned.
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This article is an excerpt from 19 Minute Parent Power Ups – Wisdom for Busy Parents.