This month, we’re talking about how having a strong-willed child can affect other family relationships. Today we’re going to talk about something that I’ve seen brought up several times but not really ever addressed in a in a helpful way. The reality that sometimes we don’t like our strong-willed child. We love our children passionately and we would do anything for them! But sometimes our strong-willed children are so challenging that we can start to foster some negative feelings towards our child.
We have Laura Tesch with us today to talk about what to do when we’re having a hard time liking our strong-willed child. As a reminder, Laura not only has her degree in Child and Family Studies, but she also has six kids of her own. Two of her six kids are strong-willed children. Here’s what she has to say:
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Have you ever had a hard time liking your strong-willed children?
I have. I really have. We’re not always going to like our children and they’re not always going to like us. That’s something we just have to acknowledge. Once you acknowledge that, then you can start to figure out why.
Do you ever feel shame that you have a hard time liking your strong-willed child?
Absolutely! But the first thing I want to get across to people is we don’t need to feel shame. The more you can let go of the shame, the better you are going to feel. Believe it or not, when we’re feeling bad about ourselves, we may redirect that shame back at our child. We may think “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t feel this shameful feeling. It’s your fault I feel like a bad parent.”
Not liking your child from time to time is a normal part of life. Do not add to the challenge of that experience by throwing shame on top of it. Let go of the guilt.
What should you do after you let go of the shame?
Now that you’ve let go of the shame, it’s time to start investigating WHY you are having a hard time liking your child. Is it because of their behavior? Is it because you feel it’s their fault you’re losing your patience? Is it because you wish they were an easier child?
Really dig deep and start to understand what’s at the root of your negative feelings?
Realize that it’s not your child you don’t like, it’s their negative behavior.
This is hard when your child’s behavior feels so intentional and personal. I understand, I have to fight this constantly myself. However, when you start to separate the two, you can see things differently. You can see that your child’s behavior is the problem, not your child. You can start to see what is good and enjoyable about your child.
Ask yourself if you blame your child for your unhappiness.
I don’t know about you, but I noticed a lot of changes in myself after adding a strong-willed child to my family.
I noticed that I was:
- Less patient
- More irritable
- Spending more energy on my strong-willed child than anyone else in my family
Without even realizing it, I found that I didn’t like my strong-willed child because it seemed that she brought out the WORST in me. When that happened, I felt like a horrible person and a crappy mom. Pretty soon, I was subconsciously thinking some really negative thoughts towards my strong-willed child.
Do you relate to any of the following thoughts?
“Before you, I was a good mom”
“Before you, I wasn’t tired”
“Before you, I had patience”
“Before you, I wasn’t judged by other parents”
“Before you, I didn’t dread getting up every morning”
Parenting a strong-willed child can get your mind stuck in this kind of negative thinking. It can even make us start to resent our strong-willed child or blame them for what we are feeling. I call this a negative thinking trap. This particular trap is called the “blame” trap. I was essentially blaming my child for my emotions. I was saying that my child had CONTROL over my happiness and that it was her fault I was miserable.
While parenting a strong-willed child is very difficult, it is UNHEALTHY to blame our children. In the end, we are 100% responsible for our own happiness. Will it take more work to figure out how to stay happy when you’re parenting a strong-willed child? ABSOLUTELY!!!!!! It is one of the hardest things that I am continually working on.
However, blaming your child for your feelings will make it so you have a lot of negative feelings towardsthem. Those negative feelings will damage your relationship with them and the possibility of you being a positive influence in their lives. Whereas, not blaming your child allows you to see your child in a more positive way. Those positive feelings will have a positive ripple effect in yours and your child’s lives.
If you find that you are stuck in a “blame trap” and can’t get over negative feelings that you have towards your child, PLEASE find someone who can help you.
Fight your negative thoughts with positive ones
The best way to handle negative thought traps is to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
I like to suggest parents create a list of five positive thoughts about their strong-willed child. Whenever you feel that your mind is getting attacked by negative thoughts, pull your “five positive things” list out and start reading it.
So if you’re going about your business one day and your strong-willed child does something that triggers a lot of negative thoughts in your head, stop what you’re doing and look at your list. You want to stop the negative thoughts as quickly as possible or they will get bigger and bigger and bigger.
Here’s some ideas of things that you could put on your “Five Positive Things” list:
- Positive memories you’ve had together
- Times you’ve seen them do really well at something
- Ways that their strength can help them
- Specific instances they’ve demonstrated kindness, responsibility, etc.
- Skills they’ve developed over the years or ways they’ve grown
- Hopes for their future
This list is more powerful if you personalize to your child and you use it frequently.
If you want to learn more about how to change your thinking by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, click here.
Accept that your child is strong-willed and will always be strong-willed
I like to use this analogy:
Having a strong-willed child is like getting a zebra when you wanted a horse. You can’t ride a zebra like you can a horse, you can’t train it the same way, it doesn’t look the same, it doesn’t act the same. But spending your whole life wanting your zebra to turn into a horse will only lead to disappointment. Also, zebras have some really great characteristics that horses don’t have. You can appreciate those differences or be angry about those differences.
Wishing that your child wasn’t strong-willed can get you stuck in another negative thinking mind trap. I’ll call it the “I wish things were different” mind-trap. You will be stuck in this mind-trap until you can accept that your child is strong-willed and will always be strong-willed.
How can you get out of the “I wish things were different” mindtrap?
- Write down what is beautiful about a strong-willed child.
- Write what things a strong-willed child can do or accomplish that other kids can’t.
- Practice seeing the good in your child
- Tell your child what you like about them
This can take a lot of work. All of these things I’m teaching take work. You’re trying to retrain your brain to see your child differently, to see your situation differently, to make new thinking habits. Making new thinking habits isn’t easy, but being free from negative mind traps is worth it.
Find times to be together in a positive way
If all your interactions with your strong-willed child are negative, you are not going to like them. It is important to find times and ways to be together in a positive way.
I like to let my strong-willed child pick an activity for us to do together and then I let her be the leader the whole time we’re doing that activity, eliminating any chance of a power struggle.
Letting her choose the activity helps me get into HER world and see her light up about. When I spend time with my daughter this way, I feel fondness and admiration for her that I don’t feel when we’re going head to head.
To learn more about connecting with your child through this kind of one on one time, click here.
Another suggestion is to have bonding traditions.
For example, I like to snuggle my kids on my lap, even when they are teenagers. We call this “Be hold” at my house. I will say to my strong-willed child, “It’s time to Be Hold”. She’ll roll her eyes but still come curl up on my lap. While she’s there, I stroke her hair or ask her little things about her day. This is a tradition that we’ve practiced for over a decade and it helps me connect with my kids.
Research shows that kids NEED to have more positive interactions with their parents than negative interactions. This can be so hard to do with a strong-willed child. You will have to be really intentional to be able to have a good balance of positive to negative interactions.
There’s no way to have positive thoughts about your kids all of the time. However, if you feel like you are really struggling having any positive thoughts towards your child, we recommend you seek help.