At the dinner table, my two year old asked for water. I poured some into the glass that was at her place setting and she started protesting. The glass in front of her was not the purple fairy cup she wanted. She said “I don’t want that one…no no no…I not eating or drink until the fairy cup [is] on the table.”
While I think it’s wonderful that my daughter has an opinion and a wish for a different cup, dinner was already underway. I had to think for a second, do I fetch a new cup to avoid a meltdown? Do I stand my ground and refuse to get a new cup? Is there any other alternative to either giving in or standing my ground?
Some parents may say that water is water in any cup and if a child is thirsty will they just drink eventually anyways. Other parents may get up immediately and fetch the purple fairy cup to avoid tears or a meltdown that could throw off the entire evening routine. I think there is a way to meet in the middle!
My two, soon to be three year old, like her brothers before her and most children her age, is very determined. She knows what she wants and likes to have things done a certain way, but, she is also learning to be flexible and we are learning to work together instead of against each other. Here are some ideas that have been helpful along the way:
Differentiate needs and wants
Meeting our children’s needs for food, comfort, attention and affection is vital to their well being so, If you feel like your child is being really “needy” or “demanding” try to notice if your child’s needs are truly being met. Sometimes what comes across as demanding may really just your child’s way of letting you know something is missing or some need is not being met.
Use Limits, Kindness and Choices wisely
Children that experience limits that are set with kindness and that feel a sense of belonging and are encouraged to cooperate naturally tend to become flexible, responsible, happy and well adjusted. It’s alright to say no to certain requests, but do so with kindness and empathy. When possible add a choice that is reasonable as an alternative too.
- “I know you want to stay home and play AND it’s time to climb into the car seat. Let’s go together, do you want to help me unlock the car?” or “It’s time to go. Do you need help getting into the car seat or will you do it alone?”
- “I know you want to do it your way AND I worry it will break. Let’s both stop and think it through. What’s your idea?”
Expect and Support Disappointment
Once you set a limit, tears may be inevitable, especially when a child is very determined to do something that is not acceptable or safe. Tears happen because it’s the child’s way of expressing disappointment and frustration and these tears don’t need to be shushed away or pacified with a distraction. We can be a supportive presence and allow the disappointment to unfold and be authentically felt – this is how a child will learn about flexibility and how to move forward.
Change the labels
It’s tiring sometimes to deal with all the stubbornness or demands, but I’ve found that transforming the labels we give to our children and their behavior makes a huge difference in how we approach them. These are some of the words I try to transform to be more positive:
- Stubborn or strong willed = determined, courageous
- demanding = decisive, daring, confident
- wild = creative, energetic, spunky, enthusiastic
When we look at our children with positive lenses and see that we can love them, just the way they are, the labels actually don’t matter so much anymore because we see a whole child – a whole being that needs love and acceptance all the time, not just when they are being “good” or following directions or when we are getting along conflict free.
Understand the developmental stage
Expectations and understanding of our child’s developmental abilities are sometimes a bit, and sometimes lot off track and end up causing a lot of conflict.Two and three year old children naturally resist parental commands, it’s their way of letting us know they are becoming an individual, with ideas and thoughts all of their own! If what we expect and what our children can really do simply do not match then we all feel frustrated.
Some resources for learning more about developmental stages:
Keep Things Predictable & Plan Well
Routines are fantastic for young children, and with really determined children one thing that works well is to have some flexibility and enough time built into the routine to allow for some of that negotiation that will naturally start to take place. Start transitioning between activities sooner than you think you should and avoid rushing as much as possible. Children like the predictability and assertive children like to keep some control over their own decisions.
Focus on Encouragement and Cooperation instead of Compliance
Power struggles often happen when parents expect compliance and forget to involve their child in the process. Children on the other hand have ideas of their own but aren’t always able to express them! When children feel involved, capable, connected to their parents and still able to maintain a certain amount of control over their own destiny children naturally tend to cooperate. Instead of demanding that your determined child comply or follow orders:
- try inviting your child to suggest a solution
- ask for her help
- listen to her ideas
- work together
- Ask questions instead of giving commands
- encourage and support your child’s independence
- Explain what CAN be done instead of listing everything that is NOT allowed.
Many parents are hesitant to do this as they think they are giving in to demands – try to find a balance and to introduce cooperation well ahead of the power struggle so that you can strike a win-win situation for everyone.
Make time to be together doing things that are fun at least once a day for at least 10 minutes. Let your child direct the play and choose how the game unfolds, go outside for fresh air, dance to some silly music, connect and connect some more. The more connection the more cooperation follows.
Yes some children are more determined, feisty or alright let’s say demanding just for the sake of explanation – but often we feel this way because we are worn down. So along with these things, take time to refuel and re-charge your own batteries!!
Wondering how that cup situation ended?
I asked my daughter a question “Does the water taste different in this cup?” “I don’t know. I not trying it! Not the glass I want!” was her answer. “Ok, it’s not the one you want. Well I’m super hungry so I want to stay here and eat. What’s your idea?” I asked her. “I [am] hungry, so I eat some dinner then I use the stool and get cup myself. Deal?” “Yes, it’s a deal!” Crisis averted – phew!
Positive parenting is not about keeping our children happy 100% of the time or giving in to every demand or bending the earth to suit our child’s desires. It is important that we pay attention and strike a balance between the needs of the child, the family and our own. When everyone’s needs and feelings are being considered, and cooperation and communication are the focus instead of commands, demands and high expectation, parents and children can really find wonderful harmony.
So is your child determined, energetic, creative, daring or confident? What situations are most challenging for you to work together?
Peace & Be Well,
For more parenting tools, inspiration and support
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