In our last episode, we talked about coaching our kids through their big emotions. We also talked about how important it is to give our kids tools they can use to calm their own emotions instead of us trying to do that for them as parents. Therapist Jeff Tesch, LMFT has made that simple by creating a tool called “The Big 5”. This is something like an emergency kit for when your kids are experiencing big emotions. This simple emotional tool kit will help them calm down from any big emotion. Bonus: it works for grown-ups, too!
One of the struggles of parenting a strong-willed child is navigating their HUGE emotions all of the time! Strong-willed kids seem to feel all that they feel in such extremes! Their either extremely happy and sweet or extremely angry and upset.
What is a parent to do?
Jeff Tesch, LMFT teaches us exactly what a parent should do based off of decades of research by John Gottman. Learn the ins and outs of emotional coaching in today’s episode. You’ll be so glad you did!
One of the things that can be most challenging about parenting a strong-willed child, is dealing with the way they treat you. Strong-willed kids tend to be sassier, use more back talk, yell more frequently, and say unkind things than other kids. Our strong-willed kids don’t do this because they’re mean, they do it out of an effort to get what they want. But understanding that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with it day in and day out.
Today, we’re going to give you a tool that will help your kids learn to treat you with more kindness and respect. What’s great about this tool is that it can be used in ALL of your human relationships not just in your parent-child relationship.
How do you truly feel about raising a strong-willed child? Do you love it? Or do you find it incredibly frustrating? Do you feel disappointed that you got a child that is SO different than the one you were hoping for? Do you find yourself feeling like you’re THAT parent, the one with the screaming child? The one getting called by the school? The one whose kid is picking on someone else and you just wish things were different?
If so, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!
Last episode, we talked about thinking positive thoughts about your strong-willed child. But what if you can’t see anything positive? What if they’re behavior has gotten you into a trap of seeing only negative in them?
That’s what this episode is all about. Parents and experts, Jeff and Laura Tesch, talk to us about how to change how we genuinely feel about raising a strong-willed child. This episode was seriously so good for me and has helped me celebrate my strong-willed child instead of wish that I had an easy-going child. I hope it helps you as well!
I have not wanted to admit it, but I have developed the habit of thinking REALLY negative thoughts about my strong-willed child. It happened over time. With each melt-down, back-talk, tantrum, act of defiance, act of aggression, etc. I thought more and more negative things. Eventually, I found that I really struggled to think anything positive about my strong-willed child and that broke my heart.
This led me to meeting with Janet Cazier, LCSW who helps parents get into a more positive place when parenting a challenging child. Today we talk about a powerful way to see the good in your child again and genuinely enjoy parenting them more. I don’t hesitate in saying that if you practice what she teaches, it will positively change your parenting experience big time.
Please listen if you feel stuck in negative thoughts about your child at all and be sure to listen to the next episode as we will dive into this topic even more.
As parents, we all want our kids to succeed socially. We want our kids to make good friends, keep good friends, and to be a good friend themselves. We even want these things for our strong-willed kids. However, strong-willed kids seem to struggle to get along with others, which can be so hard on you AND your child.
Luckily, one of our experts, Mike Fitch, CMHC specializes in helping kids develop social skills that will set them up for success. In this episode, you are going to learn specific social challenges that strong-willed kids have and how to work around those challenges. Make sure to check out part two coming two weeks!
I don’t know how many of you have had an experience where your strong-willed child has struggled socially, at school, or just with other people in general. Many people in our Facebook group, have said that they’ve been sad to see how their kids struggle with friends or in different social settings. That can be really hard for us as parents because we want our kids to have a happy life.
So we’re going to talk this month about some of those different interpersonal struggles that are strong- willed kids might have and how to set them up for success.
Our strong-willed kids may not be aware of how their personality affects others. This is true for all of us. It’s amazing that even though you’re in your own body and in your own mind, you still can’t see things clearly.
Our kiddos need our help to understand how their natural strengths and weaknesses can help or hurt in their relationships with others.
Here’s six ways you can help them better understand:
One of the characteristics that we see in a lot of strong-willed kids is a tendency to be negative. This can be hard for us to listen to as parents and we worry as parents because we know that positive thoughts lead to a positive life. However, many of us wonder how to help a child who seems naturally negative to become more positive. We may even wonder if it’s possible!
The good news is that research shows that individuals can actually train their brain to be more positive. You can literally rewire the brain to be happy. We’re here today with clinical mental health counselor, Mike Fitch, to learn how to train our brain to see the positive.
Mike Fitch, CMHC
Positivity, Negativity, and the Brain
Retraining or rewiring the brain to be more positive comes down to something called conditioning. Most people have heard of conditioning before, but I want to give a little refresher on what it is.
Conditioning is when we train the brain to behave a certain way by consistently repeating the same actions. A psychologist, Ivon Pavlov was the one to discover that conditioning was possible. Pavlov set up an experiment where he would ring a bell every time he would feed his dogs. He did this repeatedly and consistently, until his dogs were so conditioned to food accompanying a bell that they would salivate as soon as they heard the bell.
Humans, while being an advanced species, are animals too and can be conditioned just like dogs. We don’t call it conditioning, we more often call it habit forming. Believe it or not, if you or your child are negative thinkers, you have simply formed the habit of negative thinking. That can change by you conditioning your brain to see the positive in life enough times that positive thinking becomes your new habitual thinking.
I should say that I’m sure genetics have something to do with your thinking as well. For example, if you have depression it can be a lot harder to be positive. However, research shows that the most effective treatment for depression is to make positive thinking your habitual thinking.
**In some cases of severe mental health disorders, the brain does not have the capacity to rewire to the extent that we would like it to. If your child has a more severe mental health disorder, we recommend meeting with competent professionals for help**
Balancing Positivity and Negativity
I used to think that it wasn’t good for my kids to hear me be negative or vent about things. I have since come to realize that negative experiences and feelings are a normal part of life. Our kids will watch us to see how we handle these normal experiences and feelings.
With that in mind, I feel that it’s OK for us to vent, to allow our kids to vent, to get those negative feelings out, and then to balance the negativity of that out with positivity. Vent, then move on. Give your kids opportunities to vent, then encourage them to move on.
Dwelling in the negative will create negative thinking habits. Venting then moving on to positivity will not.
But how do you help a naturally negative child to move on to positive thinking? Here’s my top tips to get you started.
Tip #1 Point Out the “Positive Opposite”
This is the first technique I recommend parents use when they are trying to help their kids become more positive. I recommend doing this without your child knowing that you’re doing it, because strong-willed kids will resist thinking more positively if they know you’re trying to make them do it.
In a nut shell, pointing out the positive opposite means that you are going to ignore all of their negativity and instead, give a lot of positive response to their positivity. You’re going to teach their brain that being negative doesn’t get attention and being positive does!
How do you do this?
Acknowledge what is the behavior that you’re trying to change in your child. Do they show negativity through whining, pouting, moping, etc.
Identify the opposite of the negative behavior you’re trying to eliminate.
Ignore the negative behavior (to be clear, we don’t ignore behaviors that are against family rules. We’re talking about whining, pouting, etc)
Watch for times they use the positive behavior
Praise them when they use that positive behavior! With younger kids, be more ecstatic in your praises. With older kids, play it cool. But in both cases, be sure to do the following:
Say their name
State clearly what they did that was positive
Share what the natural positive consequence of that behavior is
With this technique, the positive attention is the rewards for the positive behavior. Also, understanding how their behavior brings more goodness into their lives helps them connect the dots between their actions and their outcomes in life.
Tip #2 The Positivity Game
Now the second tip that you have is playing a positivity game. Basically you put your kids in charge of catching each other doing positive things.
For example, I have three kids, one of which can be really negative. So we will approach her and the other kids and say, “We’re doing a contest! The contest is to catch your siblings doing something positive. Every time you catch them doing something positive, we’ll put a marble in a jar for you. The one with the most marbles at the end of the day gets to stay up a half an hour past bedtime!”
This game gets our kids to start noticing the positive things people around them are doing rather than the negative. I do have to warn you, that it gets a little annoying having them point out positive things all day and you having to put a marble in the jar over and over again. However, it is totally worth it!
You could play many variations of this game.
The person who tells you the most positive things from their day wins
Anyone that can point out twenty positive things by the end of the day gets the prize
Use some creativity. The options are endless
The main idea is just to make seeing the positive fun at first! Making new habits and rewiring the brain can be a laborious challenge, but if you get started by having fun with it, it can make it easier for everyone.
Tip #3 Positive Nighttime Routine
Once again, there are endless variations of this activity. So experiment and find one that works for your family. But research has shown that this habit is one of the MOST POWERFUL to create. Do what it takes to make a positive nighttime routine part of your family’s life. It will pay off in the end, BIG TIME.
At the end of the day, have your kids write/share/draw three to five positives things that happened that day. Have a rule that they cannot repeat the same things two days in a row. You may want to do this when you tuck them in or during dinner time. You pick the time that works best.
This helps in a couple of ways.
It helps your kids reflect on the day and see positive in it.
It sends your kids to bed with positive thoughts in their minds. Studies show that if we think negative thoughts right before bed, we think negative thoughts through the night. If we think positive thoughts right before bed, we think positive thoughts through the night. How powerful would it be to have eight hours of positive thoughts floating around in your child’s brain?!
Since your child has to come up with new things each day, their brain will subconsciously be searching for positive things to add to their list! Isn’t that cool?! Their brain won’t be searching to find what isn’t good each day, it will search for what IS good.
Bonus Tip: Practice Gratitude
How does expressing gratitude for people or things in your life help you be more positive in your thinking?
Throughout the day we’re often reminded of the things we don’t have instead of thinking about what we do have. We can take for granted the good people, opportunities, or situations that are in our lives. When we stop to express gratitude either to people or in a journal, we refocus our minds on the good.
So I recommend expressing gratitude each day. You can do this in many ways:
Write a note to someone
Text someone and let them know why you are grateful for them
Be intentional about saying “Thank you” to anyone who serves you
Have a gratitude journal
Offer a prayer of gratitude
Once again, the variations are endless. Find what works for you, your child, and your family.
In the end, positive thinking comes down to thinking habits. Helping your kids find ways to create positive thinking habits will help both you and your child.
I also want to remind parents, that while we are responsible for teaching our kids, we cannot force them to be positive. Even with all these great tools, your child may still choose to be negative. If this happens to you, continue to lead through example and enjoy the happiness of your healthy decisions.
One of the biggest roles that we have as a parent is being aware of our child’s strengths and their weaknesses, then trying minimize the negative effects of the weaknesses and bringing out and channel their strengths.
One of the weaknesses that our strong-willed kids has is being IMPULSIVE. Strong-willed kids want what they want, right when they want it.
Today we get to talk to Clinical Mental Health Counselor, Mike Fitch to learn how to help our kids THINK before they ACT.
Mike Fitch, CMHC
I deal with impulsive kids both in my clinical work and at home. It’s good to have the personal experience so I can empathize with a lot of the parents that I work with. Just like all of you and the parents I work with, there are times I really want to pull my own hair out and times where I question my own parenting.
If I haven’t screwed my kids up so far, there’s a good chance you won’t either.
Expect the process to take time
Each of us have characteristics or features that we were born with that are still a challenge for us in adulthood. So is it appropriate to expect our child to all of a sudden be perfect or is it appropriate to expect that this could take a lifetime for them to get weaknesses, to become strengths?
Changing your nature can take a lifetime. Some kids will catch onto things quicker than others.
There are two categories of kids that are impulsive
Category #1 The “Impulsive Brain”
There are kids with attention deficit disorder that are naturally impulsive. These are the kids that have lower dopamine levels and so the brain’s always seeking for stimulus to raise their dopamine. Their brains are literally going so fast that it’s really challenging for them to THINK before they ACT.
From my experience, and I know this is going to be a stereotype, these are fairly kindhearted kids. They’re not doing the thing stop, think, act. They just acting on, “Hey, that looks neat. I think that would raise my dopamine levels.”
If you feel like you have a child that fits into this category, I would recommend checking out the book The Gift of ADHD.
Category #2 The “Entitled and Willful Child”
These kids tend to be impulsive because they feel entitled to have whatever they want or they are just so willful about what they want. They also struggle to connect the dots between their actions and consequences. The have a hard time comprehending consequential thinking.
These kids also want to do things their way, to feel in control of their lives. EVERY child goes through a stage of development where they are very egocentric. Meaning, that they think about themselves and want things to revolve around them. Strong-willed kids experience this phase with more intensity than other kids and will take more time to see outside of themselves.
Kids that fall into Category One would see a cookie and grab it before thinking about anything. Whereas, a child from Category Two would see a cookie and think “I want that cookie. I deserve to have the cookie more than anybody else and therefore that cookie as mine.”
Neither of these categories of kids are bad
I think these each of these children that are born this way. They’re not trying to be bad. They just have a different type of brain. It’s also important to remember that throughout the history of evolution, all these types of brains serve a purpose. The kids that are more willful, are often the ones who become the leaders and the trendsetters. So there’s a purpose to your child’s personality. It doesn’t make parenting them easy, but can help us stay positive when things are tough.
How to help kids think BEFORE they act
It’s important to break this down by category because kids in Category One need to be handled VERY differently than kids in Category Two.
To help these kids think before they act, you are going to use something called “conditioning”. Conditioning is where you practice the desired behavior over and over again until it becomes habitual for the child.
Some of the parents are going to cringe when I say this, but roleplaying is the best way to condition a Category One child to think before they act.
Identify some of the traps that your child is falling into and then start role playing those so the child has an opportunity to act out what he or she should be doing instead.
Let’s say your child is really impulsive with grabbing cookies that aren’t theirs (or any other treat).
You’re going to have a plate of cookies out on the counter then you’re going to role-play with your child.
First ask, “Whose cookies are those? What could they possibly be for?”
Then have your child state all the possibilities. “My mom could be making them for the neighbors. It could be for lunches. It could be a treat for us.”
Next ask, “What do you need to do to find that out?”
The child should say, “I need to ask my mom first.”
Then actually have the child ask the parent, “I see that you have these cookies here. What are they for and can I have one?”
Keep practicing and practicing. With time and patience, you will see your impulsive child make progress.
Remember to do this without getting upset with the child. I feel bad for ADHD kids because they’re constantly getting in trouble at school, at friend’s house, at home with siblings, and so often their self-esteem is fairly low. It’s important to remember that their brains are wired differently than ours.
This child usually lacks empathy, thinking about how another person might feel if they eat the last cookie. So with this child you’re going to do a lot of empathy training. It’s a different type of consequential thinking than the ADHD child. It’s more, how’s this going to make everybody else feel? Try to train them to see what the other perspective is.
You can check out this whole episode on empathy here. But here are the main ideas:
Start talking to your child frequently about how they feel in certain situations. Your child is naturally egocentric, so it’s easier for them to think about how they feel than how others feel.
Let your child explain how they would feel in that situation.
Now connect the dots. Explain that others feel that same way when that same thing happens to them.
Keep doing this over and over again, being patient with the process. You are retraining their brain to think of others during a phase of life when their brain is telling them to only think about themselves.
Let’s use the plate of cookie example again.
How would a person, how would everybody else, Phil, if you took all the cookies on the plate,
First, ask your child how they would feel if they saw a plate of cookies, they really wanted a cookie, but someone else ate ALL of the cookies.
Let them explain how they would feel. Feel free to ask “What else would you feel?” repeatedly until they’ve really shared all they would feel.
Now connect the dots. Tell them that others feel sad too when they eat all the cookies and don’t leave any for anyone else.
Use this kind of empathy training in lots of areas of their life.
Here’s some other examples:
If your child’s always getting out the door: “How would you feel if you were ready the go somewhere and then someone stopped you from being on time?”
If your child takes their siblings things without asking: “How would you feel if your brother went in your room and took whatever he wanted out of there to keep?”
If your child has a hard time taking turns: “How would you feel if no one ever let you go first? Or choose what you wanted to play when you were together?”
Remember, there is hope
Both the Category One and the Category Two are very fixable issues, but they both take time. As with many issues in parenting, there’s no such thing as a quick fix. I find that a lot of parents want a quick fix and I feel they would be happier if they accepted that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Training kids to become great adults takes YEARS.
But here’s a personal story to help you feel optimistic in the meantime.
I have two clients who are brothers. Both had ADHD and one was a very, VERY strong-willed child on top of the ADHD. I taught their mom what I’ve shared above and now that she’s been working with them for years, they are doing MUCH better. They are thinking before they act, they ask for permission, they consider other’s feelings, they are just so much further along than they were before.
They are a great example of what happens with some effort and consistency.
Also remember, that you’re not the only one who will be teaching your kids. If you allow your kids to experience the uncomfortable consequences of mistakes in this area, then those natural consequences will teach your kids to think before they act.
A lot of this is honestly being able to get through their childhood, these difficult moments and allowing the child to self-correct.