In my life as a parent, the mealtimes, bedtimes, homework, bath time, and more have been pretty stressful from the start.
There is always uncertainty looming in the air.
I can never be too sure if my daughter will eat what I cook, wear the dress I have selected, will sleep on time, be ready for an event on time, or will finish the assignment on time.
And I am not talking about any particular day or a type of food.
My strong-willed, sassy, spirited, fashionista, picky eater child has a way of appreciating, often over-appreciating the food on her plate, the gifts she receives, the dresses, and more before declining to go any further with it.
Over the years, this struggle has changed form, many times.
But two things have stayed constant.
My worry about my child not doing the right things for her age.
And my child’s strong opinion about everything she does in her life.
However, with time, I have changed. Not her.
To help you get a good grasp of my situation, let me begin from the start.
In my preparation for the uncertain life of a single parent, I had started reading books on parenting early on.
Though I’d start reading the books as soon as they arrived in the mail, I hardly read beyond a few pages. Since my daughter was still an infant, I’d soon put the books down thinking it was too early to implement anything I learned.
Fast forward to the time when my toddler started showing signs of being a defiant, strong-willed, spirited child.
She would look at me with a disturbed but determined face and pursed lips, almost as if she was zoned out and not physically present there. I would be talking, yelling, or even throwing a mad fit of rage but she seemed totally oblivious to it.
That look has always been a sign that my kid has her mindset on doing the thing she wants and no amount of pleading, cajoling, or threatening can get her to do otherwise.
I have noticed myself feeling overwhelmed, threatened, challenged, and cornered by a toddler and now a 9-year-old every time my strong-willed child chooses to dig her heels and do as she pleases.
In hindsight, I can easily list the reasons why I felt so triggered.
My daughter cannot easily be swayed from her own viewpoints.
It meant that she always likes to be the one in charge of the situation, do things her way and not be told what to do.
She’ll go to silly lengths to be right and if interrupted she’ll throw a big fuss and cry.
And these would feed the insecurities in my mind.
Her acts of defiance appear (to me) to hijack my own desires to be the boss, the person in control, and trigger me into a fit of yelling, nagging, or threatening.
I had first noticed this pattern when my daughter was still 4 years old.
Despite my best intentions and eagerness to find a resolution to the constant battle that ensued between us, I was totally missing the point.
I was frantically reading and taking notes from parenting articles on how to discipline and how to win over a feisty child.
And I was so focussed on doing this that I had a list of ten most recommended tactics stuck on the first page of my journal that I read every single day.
There were days when the suggested strategies worked well.
But on most occasions, I heard a nagging voice in my head say
“Why should you ACT in ways that aren’t the real you?”
“Why should you have to do the things as the article suggests when it is not what you really want to do?”
The conflict between my conscience and the knowledge I was gathering was getting louder by the minute.
I reached a point where I had learned all the strategies to win over my strong-willed child and to get her to do the things I wanted her to, but I didn’t want to implement those because somewhere within they felt like I was manipulating her.
I needed to be my authentic self in the one relationship that meant most to me.
I had to find a way out of the mess I was stuck in.
A few days later, while writing the things I was grateful for, I wrote that I felt blessed to be the mother of my daughter.
What I had perhaps written without much thought, in no time became a thought that made me think deep.
My mind chose to look at this thought from all directions, even flipping it over.
In the process, I noticed a few things.
I was eternally grateful that she was not (a people pleaser) like me.
I really wanted to end our daily battles.
I desperately wanted Pari to feel loved, connected, safe, and happy around me.
I wanted to cultivate a relationship that thrived on mutual trust and not mere obedience.
My train of thoughts continued for a page or two.
My search for finding a resolution to my situation had taken a different turn.
I was now focused on making things work by channeling all my energy on the positives.
Every book or article I read from there on made more sense, simply because I was now choosing gratitude, appreciation, and an abundance mindset overtricks to be in control.
Stepping out of the negative thinking, helped me see the good, the positives of my situation.
I now had a different goal. I was not aiming to be the boss of my spirited child. I was energized by the idea of making US work. I wanted to make my relationship with my daughter stronger and based on mutual love, empathy, and respect.
It might sound weird to you because it did to me at the start.
But the moment I started seeing my child as a complete human being and not a ‘mini-me‘, I knew what I had been doing wrong in our relationship.
I had to let her grow free from my towering shadow.
I had to let her free spirit bloom as it was meant to be, not as I wished it to be.
I had to tend to her virtues to help them serve my child’s life’s purpose and not be a slave of my orders.
It was a tall order but something that rang right to my soul as it did to my ears.
And the best part was, I was not asking my daughter to change in any way, and neither I had to bend backward.
All that was needed to happen was, we both (especially me) accept each other wholeheartedly and focus on our relationship and not in changing each other.
Instead of fretting over the differences in our personalities, I just needed to focus on two key things:
- The need for connection over constant correction.
- The need to model the values I wanted my child to develop.
This was it.
I had to stop looking for strategies.
I had to start investing time in cultivating the values I wanted my daughter to adopt.
I was now channeling my attention and energy towards the things I wanted and not in avoiding the things I didn’t want to happen.
My end goal had shifted.
I now had a clear plan in sight.
My perspective had flipped.
I felt as if I had just solved a big problem.
Focusing my attention on the positives wasn’t easy but it sure felt lighter. I felt inspired and up for the challenge.
How to strengthen your relationship with your strong-willed child
Armed with a changed perspective, the next hurdle on my path was to convey my intentions to my child.
Because being honest and my authentic self was of prime importance to me, I decided to have an open conversation with Pari.
The only thing in my hand was to show up truly and to let my vulnerabilities show.
I did just that.
On that fateful day, I started talking to my daughter about my childhood experiences in situations similar to the ones that sparked our daily fights.
I opened my heart to let the scared, anxious child in me talk freely to my daughter.
It was a heartwarming experience for both of us. I could feel a sense of relief fill me as I slowly purged out the fears I had been holding close in my memories. While my daughter was both amazed and touched by learning about the sensitive side of her control-freak, tyrant mother.
There has been no looking back ever since.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ―
The bonding that began on the founding stone of showing up as my vulnerable self has risen tall and strongly cemented with trust, connection, and empathy for each other’s struggles.
Does bonding mean my stubborn, strong-willed child has changed?
My daughter is still the same.
She still insists to have things her way. She still stomps feet, fumes throws a tantrum when told to do things she doesn’t want to, and even slams doors.
Though what has changed is how I react in these situations or rather how to manage to keep my calm and composure to survive the daily grind.
The parenting lessons I learned while peacefully parenting my stubborn, strong-willed child
♥ Listen more than you speak
Once we started talking freely about our thoughts, feelings, and concerns, I was amazed by how emotionally mature my child was.
I had been very wrong all along while estimating how much my child understood when it came to a grasp of the danger she was putting herself in by being her obstinate self.
♥ Give reasonable choices
Starting to work as a team was one of the best decisions my daughter and I took.
We now approach every situation with an open mind with due respect for each other’s wishes and wants.
What this implies is, my daughter is allowed to watch her favorite TV show or play a computer game till she has done her school assignments.
She is also allowed to pick her own clothes until they are a reasonable choice for the weather and occasion. Else we discuss the options.
It has been a win-win for me because it has cut down the struggle and also saves me the hassle of having to make all decisions by myself.
♥ Beat the clock
My feisty child is always bubbling with energy but there are specific times in the day when either due to fatigue or hunger she can get super fussy and cranky.
It’s at these times, getting her to follow the routine can be a humongous task. These times often coincide with our mealtimes and bedtime.
That’s why I make sure I start winding down things in preparation for the bedtime and have the food ready to be served well before Pari starts getting cranky. Things have eased out a bit as she’s getting older.
♥ Think Positive
It has helped me shift my perspective from trying to assert my authority as a parent in order to win every situation to thinking about the situation from my child’s perspective.
The use of encouraging, supportive words, rather than threats is both reassuring to my child and doesn’t push my buttons to act in a controlling way.
I don’t want my daughter to listen to me out of obedience simply because I am bigger and elder to her.
Instead, I hope she listens to me because she TRUSTS me. And I can vouch from my personal experience that I have never felt a feeling of trust wash over me when I am being thrashed, threatened, or nagged.
♥ Play the helper
Getting my strong-willed child to help around the house during the COVID-19 lockdown phase has been quite a struggle.
That’s why I have assigned her the status of being “My Special Helper” where she has been allowed to choose the chores she’d like to help me out with. T
he assignment of the power to choose and the position of being special in what she does because her little acts of helpfulness are highly appreciated has been working like a charm.
From constant pleadings to help me out and Pari resisting or delaying it infinitely, she has graduated to helping out eagerly and on some days surprising me by doing more than she is usually expected to do.
♥ Tune in and groove
My sassy little kid is a lover of all forms of art. Adding in music, dance, or painting to any part of her day is enough to get her excited. This understanding has helped me find creative solutions to the tasks I once struggled to make my daughter do.
Waking up my daughter is a tough call, especially when the schools are closed in the pandemic. Each morning I’d shudder at the thought of the long drama that involves Pari making excuses and fussing to buy extra time in the bed.
The music she loves dancing to comes to the rescue. In a matter of minutes, I see her spring from the bed, happy and dancing around for sometime before getting on with the day.
♥ Connect before you direct
My sassy little brat is highly sensitive to the tone, the words, and also the actions. I noticed this only after she once told me how intimidated she felt when I’d yell at her to do her studies. She would feel caged by my constant nagging and hated being controlled in that way.
I am eternally grateful for this level of connection with my daughter because I would have never seen myself from her point of view had she not told me what bothered her so much that she started neglecting the subject she was great at.
These days, I am very conscious to make sure I spend time connecting with Pari before I ask her to do anything. I am more open to talking her through to the real reason why doing something is important.
And the surprising bit is, what felt like time-consuming to my older self, actually saves a lot of time and emotional energy on a daily basis.
In the book, Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers the author Dr.Gabor Mate suggests that the real reason why kids ‘act out‘ is because they are seeking your attention towards an unmet need.
The defiance, the fuss, the anger is all an act to show that your child wants something from you that you are not providing them. This was a life-changing revelation for me.
From that moment on, every time I notice Pari resisting I take a moment to sit with her, make her feel at home with a hug, and let her talk to me by asking simple questions.
Once I know what’s troubling her or why she is afraid of doing something, I am in a better position to negotiate the choices that would work for both of us.
This could be as simple as she throwing a tantrum around braiding her hair when she is clearly getting late for her online classes.
A two-minute talk revealed that she was tired of having her hair braided the same way every day. We negotiated to go ahead and make a quick hairstyle that was different than her usual one and do the style she had in mind after the class.
The older me would have thrown a mad fit at her getting late for the class and missed the whole point why was my kid not letting me do something we did on an autopilot every day.
♥ Set clear boundaries
While I am all for giving choices and connection, setting clear boundaries has been a gift in saving me frustration and emotional burnout. As an introvert parent to an extroverted child, it can be alarmingly draining to be outgoing all day long.
That’s why I have my clearly defined work hours (even as a stay-at-home mom), my defined reading time, and chalked out work out time that is all non-negotiable.
In turn, I respect my child’s need to have her own time to do the things that are important to her with a clear limit on the time that she is allowed.
Upholding boundaries can be tough, but the initial effort pays off exponentially in the long run.
♥ Pick your battles
Mealtimes have been pretty stressful with my picky eater throwing a fuss about eating the vegetables. it has been so since she started eating solid foods.
My frustrations were hugely related to my own habit of always polishing my plate clean irrespective of what I was served. I expected my child to do the same and felt challenged when that would not happen.
It took me a lot of unlearning to realize where I was going wrong. It was not my child’s specific likings that were triggering the ongoing struggle at the dining table, but my perception of the same. What I was making my child’s defiance mean was making the whole difference.
This changed when I shifted my lens to begin seeing my daughter as a human being with her own likings and choices. It made sense to be more accommodating while being clear on what was acceptable and what was not.
To take the friction out of mealtimes, I adopted the strategy of modeling what I want Pari to do. Because I want Pari to taste everything that is cooked before deciding if she wants to eat it or not.
I allow her to eat at least three bites of everything on the dining table and then decide if she wants more of it or not.
She needs to eat her food before getting her dessert. And to stop her from filling herself up with the dessert, she is allowed a small serving of the sweet if she has eaten only a small part of her food.
She is also allowed to eat sweets only once a day (I model it too). Though she can choose if that’s going to be after lunch or dinner.
Once she turned 7, I have let her serve herself. Though the progress has been slow, it has gradually helped make our mealtimes more pleasant.
With no more pleading to eat the food, Pari often surprises me by opting to eat a decent portion of the foods she earlier disliked, simply because she wanted to try it out as everyone else was enjoying it.
It helps to remember that in growing kids food preferences change regularly. They stop liking the foods they always enjoyed and surprise by starting to eat the vegetables they earlier despised.
♥ Make it fun
My daughter has a great interest in cooking, something she picked from me. However, the older me was constantly pushing her out of the kitchen because I was too occupied by the thought that she was too young to use a knife, she can’t be around hot pots and my secret pet-peeve she’ll create a mess in the kitchen.
While most of these worries were founded on my desire to keep my daughter safe, I was clearly overreacting and not trying to work out a solution.
After much thought, I have finally found ways to help my daughter hone her cooking and baking skills.
I step in where sharps, stove, and oven are involved and for the rest, she’s in charge. We sometimes have a little contest with her to see who shells the most peas or who can fetch their share of ingredients the fastest.
This approach has had a surprising twist. My daughter happily offers to help with the clean up because she enjoys cooking and being in charge so much.
Besides tickling, singing, pulling funny faces, dancing, and shooting all the madness on my mobile are some of the quick fun activities we indulge in when the air becomes heavy after us locking horns over a matter.
♥ Don’t take the rejections to heart
It’s fascinating how often I find myself forgetting that I am the adult and my child the kid when we are in the middle of a power struggle.
My child acts childish because that’s what a child is expected to do.
Though it has been an ongoing learning process for me to unlearn the behaviors, to let go of the beliefs that were keeping me from acting in ways a mature adult ought to.
♥ Remind yourself to be constantly grateful
I have always known in my heart that my sassy, feisty, spirited little girl is meant to do great things. Not just the good or the best but extraordinary things. I have seen glimpses of that at times when I allow her the freedom to be herself.
Though it was not until I changed my own mindset and made it the goal of my life to model everything I wanted my child to do, that life got easier, less resistant, and calmer.
I have made it a practice to be constantly grateful for the gifted child I have been blessed with.
I am grateful for a child who knows what she wants and can articulate it so well.
I am grateful for a child who has the will and the grit to go after the things she sets her heart to.
I am grateful for the opportunity to grow with the child who is everything I aspired to be as a little girl and how she is guiding me into becoming that person.
The gift of a strong-willed child
Research has shown that strong-headed, defiant kids grow up to become top-earners and often entrepreneurs. This is attributed to their ability to challenge authority, make bold moves, challenge the status quo, and to think out of the box.
That sounds quite reassuring when things can get really trying. I remember spending countless hours worrying about how my child would turn out if she continues to follow her own heart and challenge authority at every step.
Harnessing my daughter’s great potential and channeling it to productive outcomes can be trying, tiring, and often pushing me to my own limits. But I’m determined to nurture her talents and to support her in becoming the great person she is born to be.
Maybe, it will all add up to make a bigger, better future for her. It’s just that adulthood seems a little too far at times.
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The song on my mind: Yunhi Kat Jayega Safar Saath Chalne Se ~ Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke