Friday, January 29, 2010

Where there's a will...

Some children are tough nuts to crack when it comes to discipline and boundaries

Among the myriad books I have read about parenting, there are not very many that touch on the subject of strong-willed children.
Most books make the assumption that their way of discipline and child-rearing is going to work for every child, but the fact is that some kids are tougher to raise than others.
I count myself among the lucky ones who have a child who listens (most of the time) and understands the rules and boundaries in our house.
She knows when she is naughty and her emotional intelligence is developed enough for her to know when she has upset another person and, in turn, she shows remorse, regret and an apology follows (without having to force her to say sorry).
For example, last week she hopped in the bath and while my back was turned she promptly tipped the entire bottle of bubble bath into the tub.
I was not amused. After stern words from me and a few tears from her, she spent the next half an hour very quiet, eventually coming up to me and saying “I’m sorry, Mummy, I won’t do that again” followed by a great big hug.
This sort of scenario is not so easy for some parents.
Wilfulness is built into the nature of many children. It’s a part of their emotional and intellectual being and not something they learn.
What separates wilful children from those who are not is how they manage not getting what they want.

When children who are wilful don’t get what they want, they respond with anger.
Their intense desires turn an aspiration into an imperative and an imperative into a condition.
The strong-willed child often believes “If I want it, then I should get it”, “If I don’t want to do it, I shouldn’t have to” or “If I argue, then I should win”.
Then, when any of these beliefs are violated, the outcome seems unjust and so he or she gets angry because a condition of assumed entitlement has not been met.
Strong-willed children need strong parents willing to tailor their discipline to the child.
Firstly, find out what the child values most, then discipline consistently without breaking the child’s spirit. Don’t use timeouts, smacking or yelling, as this will never work with a strong-willed child.
Instead, take away the thing that matters most to them.
If they have a favourite toy, if they love to play in the backyard on the swings or if they like to watch Playschool, take that activity away from them and the child is likely to listen and behave appropriately.
It’s still very important to speak to your children in a calm manner, not yelling or screaming, which will only make them scream back at you.
Set clear boundaries and explain the consequences to them if they disobey. Don’t forget that kids need to learn these boundaries, so spend time teaching them what is expected of them.
Be consistent and firm and offer praise for good behaviour. Resist giving in because the child is screaming at you. They have to learn that their behaviour is unacceptable.
The more often a wilful act achieves its objective, the more powerful the child’s wilfulness becomes and parents who engage in power struggles with their children will end up empowering the child’s insistence and opposition. Some strong-willed children may need extra help from a doctor or other adult role models.
Parenting a strong-willed child is hard work, but it can still be very rewarding.
I recently read a quote that said: “Healthy parenting can be boiled down to two essential ingredients: love and control.”
If there is a concentration of love to the exclusion of control, it will often breed disrespect, dominance and contempt from the child.
Conversely, an authoritarian and oppressive atmosphere in the home is deeply resented by the child who feels unloved or even hated by their parents.
Therefore, it’s important to find a balance between mercy and justice, affection and authority, love and control.

Tips for parents
* Don’t over-indulge your child.
* Don’t be permissive and give the child extreme freedom.
* Don’t be insecure and afraid to say “no”.
* Don’t feel guilty or blame yourself for their temperament.
* Don’t be neglectful by not adequately supervising your child.
* Don’t be argumentative and teach your child to be stubborn.
* Don’t instil in your child a need to win at all costs.
* Don’t be inconsistent with discipline.
* Don’t be demanding and expect the child to always behave.
* Don’t let your child stray too far from you emotionally – stay connected. n Do ask yourself: “Are we, through our actions or inaction, inadvertently encouraging more inappropriate wilfulness in our child?”
* Do remain diligent because strong‑willed children have an inclination to push limits and can put themselves in greater danger.
* Do teach your children respect from an early age.
* Do accept your child as they are, don’t try and change them.


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