Today we’ll file under the “no good, very bad day” category in parenting land. My soon to be 3 year old daughter is rounding the bend towards “independence” which easily translates as defiance. My least favorite toddler trait of all. Defiance by her usually leads to screaming by me – again. How does one get a strong willed child to cooperate? Well, the answer is clearly not “exert your parental power until she claims defeat”. Nope, lesson learned on that one. Eventually she might give in, or give up, but I’m the one who ends up apologizing. What’s the lesson in that? Certainly not what I was going for. Have to recalibrate my parenting map once again and set forth in the right direction. First thing: determine my destination…
This is a good place to begin. What is it that I want to teach my child? To be cooperative? To follow directions? To abide by the same rules as everyone else? Well, yes to all of these, but if I’m thinking like a 3 year old, I too might ask myself “Why? What for?” So maybe my even greater goal, the ultimate destination, is to help my child understand why this is important and of value. In a sense, what’s in it for her.
What’s in it for me?
Now, I do understand that it is developmentally appropriate and healthy for a young child to test limits, explore their boundaries, and exert independence. Yes, we want to encourage all of these tasks while doing our part to keep them on the road. Not to vier off into oncoming traffic, so to speak. This is why children need limits, boundaries, and consequences when necessary. However, if the consequences don’t make sense, if the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, the lesson will be missed. The lesson learned will be “If I do something mommy doesn’t like, I’ll get yelled at, spanked, put in time out, etc”. Why isn’t this good enough?
1) This lesson is very vague. The larger meaning is lost.
2) It says nothing about the actual behavior and why mommy doesn’t like it. Because I said so isn’t good enough, not for a 3 year old.
3) If our discipline is modeling a behavior we don’t want our child to repeat, we’ve just carved out a whole lot more work for ourselves.
So what do I do then when I’m being pushed to my max? When I’ve told my child not to get out of bed 5 times already only to be met with a grin that seems to say, “Haha – you can’t make me. What you gonna do about it?”…. And let the power struggle commence.
Let me be honest in saying I do not have a perfect solution or an easy fix. I practice positive parenting and I fail at being positive many times over. I do ask myself, what are my triggers to losing my cool? What sets me off? What am I afraid of? I have found that no matter how many proven successful parenting techniques there are, none are surefire 100% of the time with 100% of children. No, that’s not realistic. But even when you’re doing all the “right things” your child may still not comply. This is when it gets really real. Can you keep calm even when your calm voice falls on deaf ears? Though I haven’t found my perfect formula, there are a few truths I’ve found helpful in controlling myself, when I can’t control my kid.
1) Remember it’s not just about you. What are her needs in this moment? Am I running over something she needs or wants?
Imagine this: you are in the middle of a project. You are right at the point of near completion when your spouse comes in and says, “Alright. Time to stop. We’ve got to go now.” You begin to argue, “Wait I’m almost done, just a few more…” “NO! I SAID NOW”, cuts in your husband. From there an argument ensues. This doesn’t sound much different from what we expect from our kids, does it? But if you think of it in the way of this example… well, no one wants to be the wife in that scenario.
2) Am I acknowledging her needs and wants while still holding to my directives? Acknowledging your child’s needs does not imply you give in, not at all. You announce to your child, “Okay, it’s time for us to go. Time to put away your toys.” You are met with…. total silence. Your child ignores you and continues to play. “I said, it’s time to go. Please put away your toys. We need to go now.” More silence. Your child pulls out another toy. You feel the heat rising up your spine. You are faced with forcing her up off the ground or giving in and letting her play. Neither one is a winning choice here.
3) Offering choices and alternatives that play to both yours and your child’s needs. Stripping your child from what their doing, what they want to do, or what they feel like doing only teaches them that someone bigger and more powerful can make them do things they don’t want to do. Clearly a message we don’t want to communicate. You are the parent, they are the child, but we must consider the long term message we’re teaching our children.
What lesson do I want my child to learn from this?
So, we can see what is wrong in these above examples, but what does it look like when we follow these 3 steps? Let’s look….
You are running late (of course. Are we ever not running late?). You find your child deep in legos building an elaborate castle (or whatever it’s supposed to be).
You: “Honey, it’s time to go. Put away your toys and come downstairs.”
You: <deep breath> “I can see you are really working hard there and you’re not ready to stop. We do need to go now.”
Your child picks up another Lego.
You: “You can choose to continue playing when we get home or you can bring 3 Lego pieces with you in the car.”
Your child stops and begins to consider these alternatives.
This is a small example, which again is not a perfect recipe for success, but it is a better way. Better in that you are communicating care to your child and not demanding absolute obedience at every turn. We do need to slow down sometimes, enough to communicate to our children that we understand and acknowledge their needs, not just our own. After all, isn’t that a lesson we’d want to instill in our children? To empathize with others, have patience, self control, and understanding for the needs of others?
This parenting job is tough. We are forced to learn new ways to behave in order to foster good behavior in our children. This is definitely not something I was prepared for before having kids, play therapist and all. I could not have known how to deactivate my buttons where I didn’t know buttons existed. It’s a daily process of learning, struggling, overcoming, forgiving, and trying again. All with a whole lot of apologies thrown in the mix.