“I like my pants dirty.”
“I don’t care what you like, you aren’t going to wear grass-stained pants to dinner!”
“It isn’t grass, it’s marker!”
“I don’t care what it is! Change your pants!”
“No. I’m not hungry anyways.”
Ah, strong-willed kids.
If you have, or have been around, a strong-willed kid then you know exactly what I am talking about. The next few posts will be geared towards parenting these talented children. These kids are our most promising leaders. They are my absolute favorite group to work with.
For those of you who have never heard this term – a strong-willed kid is a child that refuses to be told what to do, demands to be heard and embraces debating. They can be exhausting to parent, because they can, and will, argue every step of the way. I mean
I don’t think I can empathize enough their uncanny ability to debate. They know exactly how to pull adults in to their devious arguments, and oh that laugh they do when you show them your frustration. That laugh is priceless. Or maybe it’s just a smile, a glint in their eyes they get when they know they got to you.
You know that look I’m talking about. The one that makes you feel like an utter failure at adulting.
These kids are also highly dedicated to what they are passionate about though. When they have a brilliant idea there is absolutely no stopping them. The amount of energy they are willing to put into getting what they want is awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, their defiant streak can quickly lead them down a destructive path.
Fear-based tactics tend to escalate these kids. They will gladly suffer the consequences to prove a point. Often times, their point is that you can’t control them.
These kids existed 50 years ago as well so please don’t tell me how it’s because modern parents are soft. These kids were the rebels; the high school drop-outs; the runaways and the juvenile delinquents. I guarantee Fonzie from Happy Days was a strong-willed kiddo. But, if you remember, Fonzie had a good heart and was loyal to his friends. So are these kids. These kids will go to bat for what they believe is right.
Parenting them is about shaping and molding these strengths into behaviors that are more productive than arguing over what the stain on their pants is from. Sometimes parents describe these strategies as “manipulation”. I prefer the terms: shape, or mold – words that thesauras.com describes as synonyms to “manipulate”. But yes, ultimately, the strategies are to manipulate kids into doing what you want them to do. This is no different than using coercive, punitive tactics that are fear-based forms of manipulating; either way, your goal is to get your child to do something.
The difference is in the end result. Subtle, positive reinforcement based strategies tend to result in win-wins, while punitive measures always result in someone experiencing a negative emotion. Often times, both walk away upset. Think about the last time you got into a power struggle with your child – afterwards, did you really feel accomplished? Or were you still ruminating about the argument, even if you had “won”?