Imagine. You are waiting in line at the grocery store and are lucky enough to have left your little ones at home. The lady in front of you, however, is not so fortunate. She has two boys climbing over, under and all around herself and her cart. One child won’t stop begging for a chocolate bar while the other yanks on his mother’s sweater, stretching every seam. Everything she says to them is met with a “Why?” or a “How come?”
They are loud, active little boys with cute, crooked smiles. The cashier looks less than amused. Their mother looks embarrassed and tired. You smile. She smiles back, grateful for a friendly face. “I am sorry,” she mutters as she searches her purse for her wallet, “They are… spirited.” You just give an understanding nod.
If you have a spirited child or children then you know just how she feels.
This mama may admire her little ones’ tenacity, smarts, energy and confidence. But, they also drive her nuts.
She is driven nuts by the sense that her kids are determined to challenge everything and the notion that they will never just take her word for it. She might feel like she is failing to get through to them or that they don’t respect her. She has probably even been told by others that her kids just don’t have enough structure. They think she must just not be doing enough to “tame” them.
A really unfortunate by-product of parenting a strong-willed kid is that you can truly start to wonder if you are just falling down on your job or if you should be doing more. But, sometimes with these types of children, doing less is better. The best way to deal with a spirited child is not to try and “break” them but to embrace their spirit and help them find appropriate outlets.
Let’s talk about some tips for dealing with a spunky kiddo:
1Let them learn the “hard way”
Strong-willed kids are experiential learners. You can expect that they will test limits because that is how they process and learn about the world around them. These kids want to feel that they are in control – at least to some degree. Spirited children who are given age-appropriate independence won’t feel the need to be argumentative. If they insist that they can do something and you worry that they cannot, let them try on their own. (This is obviously only in the case of safe, low-risk activities.)
2Show them respect
Kids with strong personalities want to be recognized and given respect for their feelings and opinions. If your child is digging in their heels about an issue, do the very best you can to discuss it with them and then try and see it from their point of view. It’s important to set up boundaries and create structure but it is also essential to be flexible. Strong-willed children are going to require that you bend a bit.
3Don’t take it personally
This is a biggie! As parents, we desperately love our children and yearn for connection to them. A spirited kid may seem like they are trying to disconnect. You may think they just love to argue with you or that simply don’t like you. This is not the case. They are merely being themselves. Even if that self drives their parents crazy.
4Use logical consequences
A spirited child is not going to take much of anything at face value. It is pretty much impossible to use the “Because I said so…” argument with a strong-willed child. They will demand explanations. In addition, if they are facing punishment, they will want to know why. If you plan to discipline them, consider consequences that make sense in regard to the initial offense. If your child has hit his brother, for example, taking away his video games seems completely arbitrary. Consider what type of logical consequences they might experience for their behavior and then discipline them.
5Encourage them to use their powers for good
Spirited children are the loud ones, the active ones, the ones with lots of opinions and the ones who stick to their guns. This makes them ideal candidates for many important jobs and to become world-changers. Help them find their interests and passions and then push them to use their strong spirit to do great things.
6Show them unconditional love
All kids need this but strong-willed kids need it all the more. These kids certainly are not dummies. They know that they are challenging and they can see that the adults around them find them difficult at times. It is vital that they also know that those same adults love and adore them no matter what.
Spirited people run companies, campaign for change, work hard on goals and are confident in their own outlooks. Being spirited as an adult is rarely considered a bad thing but spirited children are difficult to parent.
However, they are also the kids that will be running the world some day.
Here’s to your little global leader!