Awhile back, I shared my feelings of helplessness and frustration when my super strong-willed toddler threw the Mother of all Meltdowns. Since then, I’ve decided to really focus on identifying situations which might set her off again, and try to create a positive environment for her. Here are some things I tried, which have been fairly successful so far. I should preface these tips with this disclaimer: I am by no means a parenting expert. In fact, there are times when I’m so awkward in public with my kids that people probably don’t think they’re mine.
1. Ask them to help. Chances are, they would love to help you with mundane tasks, like putting detergent in the washing machine, clearing the dinner table, or taking out the trash. Picking up toys is something my toddler avoids, but she often “helps” her daddy go collect chicken eggs, water the yard and clean the shop. It helps her feel a sense of purpose, and is a great opportunity to teach her new concepts. And as an added bonus, when she helps me cook, she always eats more of the dish that we prepare together than she normally would (she typically survives on air, milk, apple juice and honey sandwiches).
2. Let them make a mess. If it’s not dangerous and won’t cause permanent damage, let them get messy. Whether they want to play in the mud, finger paint with yogurt, or shoot edamame across the kitchen table, let them. I’ll swear up and down that they have to get “mess making” out of their system, and if you don’t let them do it while you’re watching, they’ll do it while you’re not watching (which are the dangerous, permanently damaging kind of messes).
4. Say “yes” as often as possible. “Mommy, will you play (insert random game/puzzle/fantastical story here) with me?” As hard as it is sometimes to stop what I’m doing, I’m trying to say “yes” instead of “maybe later” more often. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think children should think you’ll cater to their every whim, but if there’s really not a legitimate reason for denying their request, then go ahead.
5. Remember how little they really are. My toddler is extremely verbally gifted, and I often forget her actual age. Even though she can carry on a conversation better than most school-aged children (and some adults), she’s not quite three years old. When my frustration level starts to rise, I remind myself that she’s still itty-bitty. And if I think our behavior challenges are tough now, I’m sure I’d gladly trade for them when she’s 15 and no longer fears the drudgery of “timeout on the stairs.”
Some days, I don’t follow any of the advice I’ve listed above, and I regret it at the end of the day. I have two amazing daughters, and it’s up to me to create a positive environment for them to thrive in. I’m sure I’ll add to this list as the months roll by, and I’d love to know your thoughts on parenting strong-willed children.