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Friday, 4 October 2013

Pareting your strong willed child!

High Wycombe Buckinghamshire BerkshireIf you're the parent of a spirited child, one who sees your apron strings as shackles rather than the protective tethers you imagine them to be, you are most certainly in the 'strong willed child' parenting club.

For many children with this unique approach to their little lives, there can be what seems like an endless string of challenges for their parents.  Everything from bedtime battles to supermarket meltdowns and mayhem at mealtimes, it is certainly not for the feint of heart.  This calls for parenting skills on a whole new level!

On the other side of the coin, there is a child full of passion, full of determination and ready to take on the world.  The question is, how do you nurture that unique and precious spirit without crushing the personality of your challenging, delightful, exhausting and ultimately amazing child?  These qualities are sometimes overshadowed by the apparent negatives, the constant battle of wills that seem to consume every hour of the day.

You see it often enough, on planes, trains, buses, shopping isles and wherever we need to go but don't want to be.  Parents, clearly at the end of their rope, children in power and their parents wondering around with that glazed look on  their faces, clearly at a loss as to how they regain their authority and resume the leadership role they imagined when they decided it was time to have a family!   

Parenting your strong willed child is not about discipline. Many would have you believe that it is but discipline is often misunderstood.  You don't need to paddle bums or terrify your child into submission in order to assert your authority and bring them under your control.  The definition of discipline is "the practice of training [people] to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience."  Is that what you had in mind when you considered how you would raise your children?  Probably not.

Successful parenting involves a set of rules that you put into place and use as your 'framework' for a happy family life.  This is even more important when looking at ways to manage your strong willed child.  A clear, consistent approach is so important, sticking to your guns one day and then giving in the next because it's easier than the alternative, means your child will simply learn that they just need to keep going and eventually, they'll get their own way.  There will be times where you say "no" and think afterwards that perhaps you could have said yes, but at that point, its too late.  Your answer was "no" so that is what you stick to.  You will soon learn to pick your battles, use the opportunities to reward your child with special treats or unexpected surprises and attention and your child will, in time, make the association between wanted and unwanted behaviour.

If you are parenting a toddler or preschooler, your "rules" will be tailored to your child's age and equally so for older children.  Unwanted behaviour is met with a first warning, down at their level, clearly and firmly.  If they do not follow your warning, then their is a consequence and it must be applied every time.  Once you give that first warning, there is no going back.  It is now YOUR responsibility to follow through and teach your child what it is that you expect of them.  This approach is key to maintaining a calmer household and also to ensure that you can go out and about safely and with a plan in mind to address issues as they arise.

Parenting the strong willed child involves allowing them to feel as though they are in control but at the same time, helping them to make choices that fall within the scope of the "rules" that you have set for your household.  This is done by offering your child choice.  If the behaviour persists, the warning is offered and then finally the consequence is imposed as a last resort.

Take some time to sit down and decide the most important issues that you'd like to tackle.  Keep it simple and start three or four base rules, these are non-negotiable and essential to the health, well being and safety of you and your family.  From there, consider the following when devising the strategy that works best for you and your family:

Keep Calm & Parent on!
Nothing makes your look more out of control than when you lose your temper.  Your child needs you to be a mentor, someone who is calm and in control of the situation.  They will mirror your behaviour so it is important to remember that you cannot scream and shout at your child and expect them not to return the favour!  Once you have your plan in mind and you know how you're going to deal with each situation, you will automatically feel more in control and less likely to shout it out.

Keep it consistent
Offering your child choice is a great way of distracting them from their protests and by using positive alternatives, you'll be empowering your child to make better choices in the future as they learn what the choices are in particular situations.  Calmly offer the choice if your child is not co-operating. "We need to go to school now, do you want to put on your red coat or the blue one, which one do you think looks better?" and so on, ultimately you reach your goal but your child is participating in the process, making his or her own decisions as part of the task.

Use visual reinforcement
Reward charts have been around for as long as I can remember.  Many parents try them and protest that they're a waste of time and don't really have any positive impact.  That is not the case, they are a very powerful tool for behaviour management and it's important that they are used correctly and for a set period of time for the best results.  To start out with, don't make long involved charts with lots of goals that need to be achieved.  Start with one or two.  Involve your child in the process of setting the goals, ask for their input and allow them to feel as though it is their decision.  "Should we work on getting you to sleep in your bed or eating your dinner every night, which one should we start with?"  You can then let your child decorate the chart and choose the stickers, stamp or pen that you'll use to chart their progress.  Make it an exciting, positive activity.  Use the chart at the same time of day, every day, as tedious as it may seem at times.  Use it for at least a week, ideally two to see the change before adding the next goal.

Routine is King (or Queen!)
Your strong willed child will thrive on routine, believe it or not.  Keep the conversation going, let your child know in advance when something is going to take place.  "Its bedtime in 10 minutes, OK, you can play for a while longer but then we're going up to get ready for bed". Your child will soon know what to expect and this will make things easier for everyone.  Follow the same pattern of events every day or as often as possible for the best results.

Battles worth picking
Parenting a strong willed child will mean that there are more battles than you'd care to admit but its important that you pick which ones are important for that day.  Their safety always comes first but second to that, it's important not to address every single action throughout the day.  Your child needs to be free to be their own person but with your guidance on the things that really matter.

Distraction action
Strong willed children will need constant distractions to avert any unwanted behaviour, with time though, it gets easier.  As a parent, you'll get better at thinking on your feet, coming up with effective distraction ideas based on experience of what works and what doesn't.  Before you know it, you'll be doing it without even realising it!  It is hard in the beginning, you'll feel tired and fed up of having to constantly come up with new ways to divert and distract but, as a parent of a strong willed child, you'll have plenty of opportunity to get really good at it! 

Mental check
When you see your child heading into deep water, it's useful to do a quick mental check-list to identify possible triggers for the behaviour that's brewing.  You may want to have a set of stock questions if you like, a list of go to questions that will help you to quickly determine the best course of action before the behaviour gets out of control.  You may ask "Has my child had enough attention from me today, is he tired,  has she eaten well?"  These are all indicators that link in with behaviour.  Once you've determined any possible contributors, you can act appropriately, using distraction and then meeting the need when your child is calm and open to a snack, nap or game with you.

Its all about me!
Does your child really get enough of your undivided attention during the day or does your washing machine have more face time than your family?  There are countless distractions throughout the day, chores begging to be done, siblings in war with one another, bills to pay, calls to make and the list goes on.  Collectively, these things add up to far more time than your child gets with you on a one to one basis and is often the sole cause of your child's unwanted behaviour.  It is important to plan your day and involve your child in the process.  Tell your child "I'm nearly done with the washing up, in 5 minutes we'll play a game, have a think about what you'd like to do".  Later on you may suggest "I'm going to fold up the laundry, would you like to help me or would you like to sit here and play this game on your own for 10 minutes while I finish up and then we'll go out for a nice walk together?".   Including your child in your daily chores is a great way to build their confidence, achieve your goals and make them feel included in your life.

Happy parenting!  Please keep in touch, if you'd like to see a particular topic discussed here, just get in touch via email.  

Happy parenting!