I saw her look. I heard her tone. The doctor who treated my 2-year-old daughter in urgent care was not happy with how my little girl was behaving. She handed me the prescription and turned to my daughter, “We say excuse me!” I was already uncomfortable, and she proceeded to ask me where my daughter learned to exclaim “woohoo!” instead of the preferred “excuse me.” I’m guilty. So guilty.
My daughter is strong-willed. She’s spirited, as some say. I think she said “I can do it” before she could speak. She’s always doing something, as if she has an overbooked daily agenda she must stick to. Non-stop action! And she ignores me 99 percent of the time, so I’ve resorted to gaining her attention with some tactics that have had some unfortunate consequences—for example, this situation. I stuff the prescription in my bag and shrug, “Oh I’m not sure!” and bolt. The feeling I’m left with is failure, dislike, hurt. That doctor decided who my daughter is by just one moment. My daughter is more than a moment.
I try not to think of my daughter as “strong-willed” but instead as “going places”—partially because she is literally always going someplace—and often without me—but also because this is a great personality trait. But no matter how your phrase it, anyone who’s experienced this sort of child knows the struggle. There are the doctors in urgent care. There are the onlookers at the grocery store. Even sometimes family. So many eyes looking at you, judging you, labeling you, stepping in and “fixing” the situation like the doctor in urgent care.
With all of these struggles and the negative labels given to the spirited child’s personality, what happens if you turn them around? What do we get?
My daughter isn’t disobedient; she’s independent.
My daughter isn’t aggressive; she’s confident.
My daughter isn’t outspoken; she’s vocal.
My daughter isn’t a troublemaker; she’s brave.
My daughter isn’t emotional; she’s expressive.
My daughter isn’t selfish; she’s determined.
My daughter isn’t strong-willed; she’s powerful.
Sure, my daughter could put her hands on her hips at 9 months old, and maybe she screams and cries in response to anything that doesn’t go her way. Her claim over playground equipment sends kids twice her size running in the opposite direction. Waiting in a line isn’t an option. Neither is a bib that doesn’t match her outfit. And don’t get me started on the “time-out.” My neighbors in a 1-mile radius can likely hear her. She’s so tough to handle, but she’s amazing. There’s so much beyond these moments. If we look beneath the surface, we see a child learning to handle her emotions—a child like my daughter who is taking in so much that she’s overwhelmed and distracted 99 percent of the time. It’s like her brain has 100 books open at the same time.
It’s so easy for people to overlook the fact that a 2-year-old child could not possibly act with spiteful intentions. Strong-willed kids aren’t trying to be difficult. They’re simply trying to navigate life. With all they’re taking in, this is an impressive sight to see.
I urge onlookers to listen more closely next time they witness a spirited child’s moment. Watch her walk into her first day of preschool tearless and ready to learn. She’ll approach teachers and peers with more confidence than the school principal. She’ll try new things without blinking an eye, opening her up to countless experiences and opportunities. Peer pressure doesn’t stand a chance when you’re as determined as this kid. Yup, she’s strong-willed; she’s powerful. This kid is going places.
So thanks for the prescription doctor. But the advice on my daughter’s behavior? No thanks, we got this. Please don’t judge me. Don’t label my daughter. She’s doing just fine, and she’s more than this moment you witnessed.