There are times I feel defeated by my 4-year-old. She is smart, and sassy, and pushes her boundaries whenever the opportunity presents itself. She does not accept an answer without a detailed explanation and often questions my reason and logic.
When presented with a road block, she finds a way to maneuver around it. She does not accept no for an answer. My daughter is fiercely independent, and often bites off more than she can chew. She wants to do it all, and she wants to do it by herself, even when she is not capable of doing so.
She is my strong-willed, firstborn, rebel child, and while she may drive her father and I to the brink on a regular basis, I know these challenging traits will serve her well as an adult. Although, it’s taken some time for me to understand this.
I used to long for the ease of parenting a calm, compliant child. I would see them on the playground, or in restaurants, sitting quietly, content with the coloring sheet they received from the hostess. They weren’t attempting to style their hair with a fork or pulling discarded chunks of chewing gum from beneath the table. I never heard them loudly announce their flatulence or shout their strong distaste for green beans. It always lead me to the same unsettling conclusion: I’m a bad mom, and my kid is a brat.
I viewed my daughter’s strong-willed nature as the result of inadequate parenting on my part. If the restaurant parents were able to keep little Jimmy in check, there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to do the same with my kid. But, despite my best efforts — firmer boundaries, toys taken away, privileges revoked, seemingly endless timeouts — my daughter’s strong will could not be bridled, and our struggles remained.
I felt so defeated.
Then one day, as we were discussing my daughter’s latest transgression, my husband made a comment that turned my worries on their head. He said, “I’ve got to give her credit for her determination.”
Her determination — his words echoed in my head.
She was determined. As an adult, describing someone as determined, would often be considered a compliment. I began to mentally compile a list of my daughter’s attributes.
Determined, independent, creative, inquisitive, insightful, resourceful, intelligent, persistent, assertive, and ambitious were at the top of the list. They were all desirable attributes. In fact, they were everything I would ever want a child to be, or an adult, for that matter.
I realized, I didn’t want to suppress her strong will; I wanted to nurture it, in a positive way. I had been trying to put her in a box that she would never fit, and if I continued pushing, I would eventually break her. I would break her spirit, and she would conform, which is the last thing I would ever want to do.
So I changed my approach.
It turns out, my little fireball comes by it naturally. She and I share many of the same personality traits. This is a huge parenting advantage: I know what motivates me and what discourages me. For example, if someone tells me I can’t, it only motivates me to try harder or find out why. Therefore, instead of telling my daughter, “You can’t do that,” I explain the situation to her and the potential outcomes. I let her process the information and make a decision on her own. Most times, she makes a good decision, and we avoid unnecessary conflict.
I continued to apply this type of logic to our interactions, and the wildest thing happened — her behavior improved. Of course, she still challenges us, and I still have to tell her no from time to time. She’s still a kid and needs our guidance, but I no longer compare her behavior to her peers or hold her to unrealistic expectations.
The parenting challenges she presents to us are byproducts of her personality, which will, no doubt, make her one hell of a go-getter later in life. Who cares if she can’t sit still in a restaurant because she’s too busy exploring? Not this mom. I will gladly let her question my logic if it feeds her desire to learn, or challenge me if she believes I’m wrong. Wouldn’t you want your child to stand up against injustice?
My strong-willed child who pushes her boundaries today will fearlessly chase her dreams tomorrow. She will set her sights high and accept nothing less than success. My girl will, one day, set this world on fire, and I couldn’t be any prouder to have a strong-willed, rebel child.