From the moment our first son was born I said he was going to turn my hair gray. He was born late, and large, and refused to take his first breath for what seemed like an eternity. He also had to have emergency surgery for intussusception at 3 ½ months. This boy is so very special and dear to my heart. He will cuddle and randomly yell how much he loves us. But he is also extremely strong-willed.
I think battling with our children is one of the biggest ways to waste time and miss out on the joy of parenting (right along with worry and fear). But this kid has a way of pushing my buttons and fighting. Whether it’s when he says he chooses to be grumpy and sits down on the side walk instead of getting in the car, or when he says he can’t brush his teeth because a cup is in his way, he is a determined little man.
I have needed time to adjust to his nature and find that I need to remind myself daily (sometimes hourly) that God gave us this boy for a reason. Our job is to foster his will, not break it; to teach him how to use it for good, and to love him for whom he was created to be. My relationship with him is not about who will win. Parenting like that will mean we both lose. My relationship with him needs to be about love, fostering his strengths, teaching him how to live his life for God, and modeling empathy. The best way to parent a strong-willed child is with LOVE.
L: Love and Laugh. I will admit, I wanted L to stand for lamentations. I will find myself crying out with grief at times over the stubbornness and strength of my strong-willed child. But I have learned it is better to love and laugh with him. To love is to show strong affection and the best way for me to do this is to laugh with our son. Filling his love tank does wonders for both our attitudes. When we laugh we aren’t battling.
O: Observe. What sets off your strong-will child? What brings them joy? What are their strengths? What are their natural gifts? What character qualities can you compliment them on? How can we bend this strong-will to work for the child’s favor?
V: Validate, Value, and Victory. Validate his feelings, his strength, his character. Yes, he has to show respect and follow directions. But when I validate how he feels I show him that he has value. When he has to follow limits, I show him he is valuable enough to me to set and enforce those limits. When we work together in love we can have victory.
E: Empathize, Encourage, and Enjoy. Parenting with empathy is not easy when your buttons are being pushed. Reacting to his outbursts of anger or defiance with anything but empathy and love will always back fire. Modeling empathy to him is the best way for me to instill it in him. He will learn empathy by seeing it in me. Managing big emotions is hard for children, so we need to model how to appropriately handle our emotions.
Encourage means to inspire courage, or to spur on. There have been times I did not want a strong-will child. Many of those times have been while grocery shopping or the bank. But one of my duties as the mother of a strong-will child is to find and encourage his strengths. What is he good at? How can he use that for good?
Enjoy means to take pleasure in. Enjoy the time you have with your children. Find things you like to do together. Face-to-face time is the most important gift you can give your children because it shows how much you love and value them.
I want to give hope to any mother dealing with a strong-willed child. I understand how hard times can be, and I know how easy it is to let those hard times have too much power. I encourage you not to let the hard times rule. I encourage you not to be overwhelmed. Do not parent your strong-will child with fear or disgust. Parent them with love, encouragement, enjoyment, strength, and most of all prayer. Parent them on your knees.
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