There is no doubt these children are a challenge even for the most dedicated and understanding parents. But does that mean that there is something wrong with them? Not necessarily! While it is true many children with strong temperaments also have medical conditions such as ADHD, not all children with challenging behaviors have a medical condition or need medications. (Check with your school and pediatrician to decide if your child needs medical intervention!) Oftentimes what is most helpful are firm limits, consistency, and a good understanding of the child’s specific temperament.
What should I know to better understand and help my willful child?
- Children enter into the world with their own unique temperament. It is an inborn trait that cannot be changed. However, parents can learn to understand it, guide it, and mold it into positive directions!
- Misbehavior is more about reaction than attention. Children have built in energy detectors. If we consistently give louder and more intense reactions to misbehavior than we do compliance, children will go for the “fireworks” every time.
- Although sometimes it may seem like it, your child is not out to “get you” or make your life miserable!
- Children can be taught self-control, and parents can learn how to starve misbehavior by not feeding it with our energy.
What parenting techniques work best with strong-willed children?
- Less talk-more action! Since children with intense temperaments thrive on energy and parents become more energized as the lectures, begging, and arguing escalates, the most productive way to stop this cycle is to keep instructions short and clear.
- Let your child know what is expected and the consequence if she chooses not to comply. “Amy, you have to finish your chores before lunch or no swimming.”
- Follow through with stated consequences every time! Children continuously test to see if consequences are consistent and predictable.
- Don’t nag. If your child knows what is expected of her, a simple gesture can get the message across. “Kay, (point to the sink), dishes!”
- Be your child’s cheerleader! Let him know that you believe in his capability to make good choices. Remember, negative messages are met with resistance and positive ones with compliance.
Parents can break this cycle by:
- Refusing to become involved in arguments and lengthy debates.
- Believing that things can get better.
- Seeing your child’s intensity and energy as a gift and not a burden. Strong personalities are often accompanied by intelligence, creativity and talents.
- Redirecting your energy towards recognizing and rewarding positive behaviors.
- Reducing the intensity of your reaction to misbehavior.
- Finding something to share with your child, which can pull the two of you closer together. Concentrate on activities that promote feelings of togetherness.