10. Discipline through the relationship, never through punishment.
When you want your child to change course, think in terms of support rather than force. There is no amount of force in the world that can get a truly strong-willed person to acquiesce. That just increases their resistance, because their integrity won’t let them back down just because they’re being threatened.
But if you give them enough support, and they feel enough connection, strong-willed kids will usually agree to do what you want, instead of what they want. Kids cooperate because there’s something they want more than getting their way in the moment – they want that warm relationship with us.
The more you fight with and punish your child, the more you undermine her desire to protect that warm connection with you. Remember that kids don’t learn when they’re in the middle of a fight. Like all of us, that’s when adrenaline is pumping and learning shuts off. So instead of trying to teach at those emotional moments, take a deep breath and connect. If she’s upset, help her express her hurt, fear or disappointment, so they evaporate. Then she’ll be ready to listen to you when you remind her that in your house, everyone speaks kindly to each other. (Of course, you have to model that. Your child won’t always do what you say, but she will always, eventually, do what you do.)
11. Offer him respect and empathy.
Most strong-willed children are fighting for respect. If you offer it to them, they don’t need to fight to protect their position. And, like the rest of us, it helps a lot if they feel understood. If you see his point of view and think he’s wrong – for instance, he wants to wear the Superman cape to church and you think that’s inappropriate – you can still offer him empathy and meet him part way while you set the limit.
“You love this cape and wish you could wear it, don’t you? But when we go to services we dress up to show respect, so we can’t wear the cape. I know you’ll miss wearing it. How about we take it with us so you can wear it on our way home?”
12. Connect, Connect, Connect.
Connection is 80% of parenting for all kids, because until they feel connected, they won’t accept your guidance. But this is especially true for strong-willed kids. My strong-willed daughter told me when she was 21 that if someone else had raised her, she might have become a criminal. I don’t think that’s true, but she was, indeed, a challenging child who could never be intimidated. She only followed my “civilizing” influence because she loved and respected me. Connection will always be the most effective way to influence your strong-willed child.
Does this sound like Permissive Parenting? It isn’t. You set limits. But you set them with understanding of your child’s perspective, which makes her more cooperative. There’s just never any reason to be mean about it! As the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Here’s why Permissive Parenting sabotages your child.
This also isn’t authoritarian parenting, which backfires with strong-willed kids because they rebel. What’s Wrong with Strict Parenting?
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