Parenting a strong-willed child

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now and have made mention to B’s somewhat challenging nature. Tonight is the right night to write it.

B changed from a calm, easy baby to a challenging toddler almost overnight. I started writing about it in May of 2014, when he was only 10 months old. And when I haven’t been writing about sensory activities and DIY toys, I’ve made mention of B’s strong-willed personality.

Through multiple sleep regressions, learning to walk, down to one nap – you name it – his new personality hasn’t wavered. It’s only gotten stronger. And I have to admit that I feel unequipped to handle him, because the tools I have in my toolbox don’t always work.

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He loves going outside because he has the freedom to go and do what he wants – he gets to make all his own decisions. Unfortunately we have a few feet of snow on the ground at the moment!

He is passionate. That’s the best way to put it. He is bored with his toys, even when I rotate them (this is why I love sensory bins!). He doesn’t want to sit and watch TV. His body is calm, that I do have to say. He’s not hyper, doesn’t climb on things, etc. It’s his brain that wants to go 50 miles an hour. He wants to hold what we’re holding, press every button, grab every sharp knife, cook, clean, flush toilets, use our pots and pans (but only the ones we don’t offer him). And when we’re able to, we let him help. We believe in the importance of toddler independence and my husband has been building “learning towers” for the twins. They aren’t done but here’s what it looked like before my husband had to take it apart to make some adjustments:

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He was helping to make smoothies, and he loved it. But sometimes when we do let him help, he doesn’t want to do what we ask him to. He wants to play with adult items that are dangerous, in the way he wants to play with them. He doesn’t really want to help at all – he wants to do it alone, his way. And when we can’t allow him to do that, or when we’re not able to let him help, he melts down. We have to creep in the basement so he doesn’t see us go, or he will have a meltdown. When we take him down there, he wants to spin the fan blade and press the dryer button. If he can’t, or we don’t do it long enough – meltdown.  If he’s eating a meal and someone goes into the basement and he sees, he’ll meltdown and refuse to eat any more. If he chooses the purple spoon and I give C the blue one (I always give him the first choice), he’ll immediately want to switch. After they switch, he’ll want the purple one back. (Yes, I have multiple blue and purple spoons but he’d want both of the same colored spoon regardless.) He’ll grab toys out of C’s hands, he’ll hit the dogs when he’s upset. He wants to walk around with his water and when I won’t let him – meltdown. He wants to jump on the couch and when I won’t let him – meltdown. He wants more smoothie because his sister is still drinking hers but he finished his – meltdown. He wants what he wants and he won’t let it go. When he does have a meltdown, he has a traditional temper tantrum – he rolls around the on the ground, kicks his legs, slams his head into the ground (only twice, and then he realizes it hurts and stops). If I leave him in another room to cry alone and ignore him he chases after me, pulling at my shirt and then melting down more when I offer to hold him. During a meltdown, he’ll throw things, hit, and bite (though biting is MUCH less in the past few months, thankfully). The worst part of all is that it lasts forever.

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In the past week or so, he’s melted down in this way once a day. Today it was TWICE, and all the meltdowns have been over him not wanting to sit in his chair for meals. Being strapped in was an issue many months ago but had been getting better. Today it was breakfast and dinner and probably would’ve been lunch too but we weren’t home. He doesn’t want to sit in his chair. And me, feeling unequipped without the confidence I need to parent him correctly, I’ve allowed him to meltdown, I’ve ignored him and walked away, and then after 20 minutes or so, I start to doubt myself. This is crazy, he’s in hysterics. I’m his mother, he needs to know I understand he’s frustrated and doesn’t have the words to tell me why. So after these 20 minutes, I’ve gone into a panic, feeling like the meltdown needs to stop, and I’ve either turned on the TV or …twice…fed him his oatmeal on the couch. Bad Mommy! The meltdown wouldn’t have had an end and I felt trapped. Because he wouldn’t sit at the table, and so it was either feed him when he’s in a cried-out zombie state on the couch or he doesn’t eat. And then tonight, I decided I can’t keep being wishy-washy. That’s not good at all – I know how bad it is, and that it’ll only make things harder for me in the long run. Not to mention it’s not fair to C. I used to let him take toys from her as long as it didn’t make her upset, but now that she’s getting older, she does get mad. And even if she doesn’t – I can’t allow him to grab things from other’s hands at this age. I allowed it , and now I’m not. So tonight, as soon as it was time for dinner and C went to her chair, the meltdown began.

It lasted over an hour.

He screamed, he hit, he threw things, he rolled around, he temporarily was distracted by playing cars and trucks and then in the middle of it he burst into hysterics all over again. He wanted to take his plate from the table and throw it. He wanted to shove whole cucumber slices in his mouth. We stood our ground. He wasn’t eating unless he sat in his chair. He stood his ground, and continued to meltdown through bathtime. I then realized that maybe dinner wasn’t the right meal to begin holding firm. That what if he goes to bed starving, because he’s a 30 pound beast who needs to eat? That it might cause night wake ups, or an early wake up, and that in the morning when he realizes it’s time for breakfast, this would start over again. What if he misses both dinner and breakfast?

Well by the time I thought of all that, it was too late. He was past the point, he was exhausted, he was still screaming. I offered all types of food, he said yes to a few but wouldn’t sit in his chair. Because C hadn’t finished her milk as dinner was hectic and rushed, we decided to allow both toddlers to drink their milk in the bathtub. And they did. He had his cup of milk.

But that’s it – he went to bed hungry, refusing to touch a single piece. We held strong. And was it worth it?

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He is full of love. The flip side of the coin is that his passions also extend to what he likes. And one thing he likes is his lovey!

I’m now full of doubt – this is the hard part of parenting, obviously. I don’t think I made the right choice, sending my 18 month old to bed without any food. But after 45 minutes went by, it was clear he wouldn’t be eating anything. He was beyond hysterical.

My nanny doesn’t see these meltdowns like we do, which is good. And when we’re out of our house, he’s Mr. Shy. Hiding from new experiences. Taking forever to warm up. Super quiet. Completely opposite of how he is at home. I did mention this at the twins’ 18 month appointment and the P.A. said some toddlers do start this behavior early (um, yes.) and that when he has a bigger vocabulary and can say why he’s upset, it’ll be better. I hope so? But I’m doubtful.

I just wish I knew what the “right” way to handle him was. If this is the personality he’s going to have, I’m going to accept it. I want to learn how to channel it productively as he gets older. I want to give him the independence and the decision making skills he craves, but yet I want him to know where I draw the line. And a few months ago, I felt like he was still a baby, doing what many kids do. And now I’m not so sure. Now my husband and I need more tricks up our sleeves and the confidence behind it to know what we’re doing is the right thing.

Or maybe there’s nothing we can do and we just have to ride it out. It’s frustrating and emotionally draining. Maybe it’s a sign of genius? All kidding aside, can anything good come from this personality he has?

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A good mood – maybe forgetting he was in his chair!

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14 thoughts on “Parenting a strong-willed child

  1. Krista says:

    Strong willed children are a challenge! I’ve had my hands full with my youngest, especially since my first was the most laid back, easy going kid. So getting the complete opposite for the second was a big change. Even though B is a toddler, you still can apply the same principles you use with your students. You wouldn’t tolerate a tantrum in class, you’d remove the student from the situation and give them a break until they are calm and rational again. 18 months is not too young to start. One time out won’t do it, but over time, you can show him that it’s ok to be upset but not ok to throw a tantrum and if he does then he needs a break. He’ll probably just get upset all over again about being punished but at least when you go in to get him, he’ll be so excited you’re rescuing him he may forget all of the rest and calm down after a few soothing words and a hug. And at least he’ll learn you’re in charge! I used the crib as a time out place until they were old enough to learn to sit in one place, like a chair. I worried at first that they would start to associate bedtime as a punishment, but that never happened with either kid. If you do worry, than you can always use a pack n play instead. Unfortunately there are no solutions. As language develops it will get easier because he can express himself more and you can reason more with him. It’s a work in progress (and still is at 2.5 yrs)! Good luck!

    • futuresoccermom says:

      Thanks Krista! All of that is really good advice. I’m really starting to internalize the importance of starting NOW, being consistent with discipline. I will give the time out idea a try! Today was a better day. Thank you friend!!

  2. storkchaser says:

    I’m not a mom, but from a child development perspective, you’re doing it completely right, mama! Seriously, I’ve seen a lot of kids (GREAT kids) with this personality type and your and your husband are doing everything exactly the way I would recommend. Hang in there, it will get better. And I’ll send extra peaceful vibes your way!

  3. robin says:

    I think you did the right thing, I think your instincts are good. He’s 30lb??? He can make it a night with no food. He can make it a day with no food if that’s his choice. He isn’t starving. He will eat. Sometimes when I was teaching them table manners they would miss a majority of their meal, or the whole thing, and it happens. They eat more the next meal. and usually a lot calmer.

    You were giving him a lot of freedom before but now you are trying to take more control, of course he is going to rebel against it, and of course it is going to be really intense at first. How were his meals so far today? I’d say dinner is probably a fine time to start with “training”, because breakfast you know they are starving from the night before, lunch they are probably still hungry, but lots of kids only eat small dinners anyway because they’ve had plenty to eat all day.

    Just let him have as many decisions as possible and stick to the things that matter to you. I let the kids choose which plates/cups/forks, but they only eat in the chair. Sounds like you are doing the same thing. Obviously he is a tough cookie behaviorally already, can you imagine if you wait until he’s 2 to start trying to manage all of this .. it would be very hard!

    Good luck!!

    • futuresoccermom says:

      Oh I always love your comments! You are a bit ahead of me with your twins so it’s nice to see where they will be heading. Yes – you’re right. No, I can’t imagine waiting any more before being consistent with him about discipline. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. Haha yes, he’s 30 pounds! 90% for weight and 75% for height – he’s a big boy! He did fine overnight with no dinner. He actually had a good day today save for one meltdown at breakfast and I think I’ve now discovered he has an issue with the bowl I was using. For pete’s sake. So I’m hoping I figured it out, but this has still been an eye-opener with me and I’m glad to have made the change. Thank you so much!!

  4. randomsqueaks says:

    You have my undying praise and support for managing a strong-willed child. We have many strong willed people in my family and the things they learn as toddlers and children have a great influence over them as adults, not to pressure you or anything. My point is, what B is learning now is so important and i commend you for staying strong despite that mother heart doubting and breaking into pieces. I love my mother but she parented with her heart too much and as a result, all three of my siblings and I grew up loved but lazy. It’s a hard habit to break despite being aware of it. I hope to do better with my kids, although the one I thought was strong-willed wouldn’t hold a candle to B.

  5. slynnkang says:

    Oh thank you for writing this post! My little (big) guy is only 15 months but already showing glimpses of this behavior. In fact, just this morning he had his first epically long tantrum. It was crazy! I have studied some child development and it really does sound like what you are doing is right on. I hope that once he learns the boundaries and guidelines a bit more, and is able to communicate, he will settle down. I’m working on sign language with my boys and it really does help. I also have my strong-willed one “help” me as much as possible and I walk him through the steps. Yesterday for snack I made him ask please (in sign language), sit on his bum and then eat his snack. He would finish one piece and get up and I would go through the same steps again. He loved it! Thank you also for your ideas for play and discovery! I’ve just made up a new “toddler” schedule and am incorporating different types of play/skill building into our day. I love having a structure to work from.

    • futuresoccermom says:

      Love it! Thank you so much for your comment! Baby sign language does help us as well, and that’s a post I’ve been meaning to write about! My son also does the “eat one bite, stand back up” thing! So funny – he is constantly testing me! What are some other signs that your little man uses that you find beneficial?

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