Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child
Eliminating conflict by establishing clear, firm and respectful boundaries
by Robert J. MacKenzie, Ed.D.
Image from Amazon.com
This was a fantastic book! I think I put post-its on every page!
The author starts out by describing what exactly a strong-willed child is... "are not part of some conspiracy to make life difficult for others. They just do what strong-willed children do. They test harder and more often, resist longer, protest louder, use more drama, and carry things further than most of us would ever imagine. They're movers and shakers, powerful kids who bring out strong reactions in others." (page 3)
The strong-willed child that the author refers to is a child who's tough to discipline and in trouble a lot, hard to raise sometimes. However, the reason I share this book with you, who have typically average kids, not the really tougher kids for the most part, is because this book was written in a way that even if you have an easy going child it's a MUST READ. Really great tips that would work with any child.
"Strong-willed children are normal...extreme does not mean abnormal. Most strong-willed children are normal with well-defined temperament traits. They're not brain damaged, emotionally disturbed, or defective. Most have no diagnosable problems at all, though some do." (page 6)
DISCIPLINE is tougher.
They require more discipline, more frequently. Dr. MacKenzie suggests if you just accept that you WILL be repeating yourself over and over again, doing the same type of discipline multiple times for the same exact behavior you spoke about yesterday, when you accept this as just how it is with your child, your annoyance and frustration levels go down and you become more effective as a parent.
Methods you'd use on one child may not work with your strong-willed child. It's just how it goes. Trying new things is what the game is all about with these kiddos.
"Strong-willed children do much of their learning 'the hard way.' That is they often need to experience the consequences of their choices and behavior before they can learn the lesson we're trying to teach." (page 8)
"Strong-willed children need to experience your boundaries repeatedly before they accept them as mandatory, not optional." (page 25)
It's helpful to be consistent, unwavering, firm, and clear with your expectations and rules with your strong-willed child. Not backing down is KEY. But also giving second chances, "You can get the toy back tomorrow if you use it the right way, but not right now, it's taken away today."
"The hard way is the clearest way for strong-willed children to learn your rules." (page 31)
The author refers to children as "natural researchers." They observe everything and test things out. Strong-willed children do more limit testing. It's part of their nature.
Limit testers need to answer questions, to see if what you say is what you will do. This is natural behavior for kids. They are wondering "what's really okay? Who's really in charge? How far can I go? What happens when I go too far?" (page 37)
"Strong-willed children, on the other hand, are the more 'movers and shakers' in the world. We call them 'aggressive researchers' because they frequently test limits and authority. They require a lot of data in the form of experience before they are convinced to accept and follow our rules. To them, the word stop is just theory. They want to know what will happen if they don't stop, and they know how to find out. They continue to test and push us to the point of action to see what happens." (page 42)
This can be extremely frustrating as the parent, but the whole purpose of this book is to help you accept this is how your child is wired, and it's normal for them, and you CAN react in positive ways to this struggle.
Strong-willed kids need you to be firm and consistent, keeping boundaries. They believe what they experience versus what they are told, so saying it over and over and just merely threatening but not following through doesn't help them. They need you to do what you say. (page 45)
"When your words are consistent with your actions, your child will begin to tune in to your words and take them seriously." (page 45)
He also suggests that we use clear directions, as in green light and red light. No yellow happy medium. "When we ignore misbehavior, we're really saying, It's ok to do that. Go ahead. You don't have to stop." (page 96)
Things that DON'T work: (page 107)
- blaming ourselves
- giving in to tantrums
- allowing kids to walk away from a mess
- cleaning up kids' messes for them
- dressing kids who can dress themselves
- ignoring misbehavior hoping it will go away
- overlooking misbehavior when you're in a good mood
Things that DO work with firm limits: (page 108)
- Using time out for kids who hit
- Removing the popsicle from the kid who ignores your request to not eat in the living room
- Putting away toys for several days when kids don't pick them up
- Turning TV off when kids refuse to turn it down
"Anger, drama, and strong emotion can easily sabotage the clarity of your message and reduce the likelihood of cooperation. It's not only what you say that matters, it's how you say it. Your words are an important guidance tool." (page 144)
Start your message clearly, focusing on behavior, NOT on attitude, feelings, or the worth of the child.
Give kids instructions and expectations AHEAD of time. Tell them from the beginning what they need to do and how when you go some place, instead of having to discipline them later.
Give choices, but have limits. Don't offer more than a couple of choices. State the choices with no wiggle room, you decide, they have to make a choice within your reason.
Sometimes kids say "I'll listen now" or things like that and it may seem ok, but it's not. "When kids give us the right words but the wrong behavior, hold firm and stay focused on the behavior." (page 169)
I'm a huge fan of apologizing, telling kids that we're sorry for what we did in yelling or mistakenly telling them something or whatnot. It shows them how they should act if they make a mistake. It shows we are human, too, even as parents.
"... an apology from a caring adult gives children permission to be human and imperfect and the courage to try harder." (page 174)
"When a consequence is over, it should really be over. No debriefings. No lectures or inquisitions. No rubbing their noses in it or adding 'I told you so' words. If your child lacks the skills to behave acceptably, then teach the appropriate skill. Otherwise, allow the experience to teach the lesson. You're not likely to achieve much more with your words." (page 185)
Time-outs work only if used consistently and in the right way. No being vague. Set specific time, minutes for each age for example, and set a timer so it's known how long to be there and so you don't forget.
He suggests not beginning before age 3.
CATCH THEM BEING GOOD
Instead of always saying "no, put that down, don't do that," catch them doing something great! Even simple things "Thanks for picking up the towel." It helps them to see they aren't always being told they are doing poor things.
Overall, an awesome resource, and I meant it when I said I think ANYONE's child could benefit from their parents reading this book and following its tips.