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!