Bronwyn and I sit together in a puddle of her pee. I’m rocking her back and forth whispering “I love you, Bronwyn. I discipline to help you grow. I’m after your heart. I’m not hurting you. I love you, sweet girl.”  I’d been waiting for her to calm down for 15 minutes now.  We’d been sitting in pee for 2 of those minutes.

The pee is drying sticky on my legs and my beautiful strong-willed Bronwyn is flailing while yelling “MAMA! Hurt me! No douch me. No snuggle me! MAMA! Hurt me!”

I want to stand up and hose my sticky nasty legs off.

About this time I begin to weep silently while whispering truth in her ear. We’re so alike, her and I, fighting so hard for what we want even if it’s not the best thing for us.

In 30 minutes, it’s over. I hose off my legs and she asks to sit in my lap while she eats lunch. The relationship is restored.  As both of our rinsed legs and tear streaked faces dry, I know that this was a good discipline and correction session. My heart carried the right attitude.

I think one of the dangers of having a Strong Willed Child (SWC) is that we’re so busy dealing with their behavior (and hopefully their little hearts) that we forget about our behavior (and our hearts) in a battle for behavioral control.

We didn’t choose to be parents of a SWC.  We were just blessed to be the one chasing the SWC across the parking lot because they wouldn’t hold our hands and bolted.  I’m actually kind of disappointed that birthing a SWC doesn’t automatically come with a free invisibility poncho for public use…

In all seriousness, let me say that I walk this road with you.  I’ve left storytime with those awful judgemental/piteous gazes from the other mothers while I wear a 3 month old, heft my strong-willed flailing child on my hip, and try to herd her twin in the same direction I’m going.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that some days I just want a vacation or to trade children with other moms.  I’ve learned some hard truths about myself while parenting my SWC;  hard truths about my tendency to anger, avoidance, scapegoat-ism, and selfishness.

But the biggest truth I’ve learned is that the strength of our relationship and my attitude have the greatest influence on Bronwyn’s level of defiance.

Bronwyn can tell just by the glint in my eyes if I’m angry, or disappointed, or frustrated.  She can tell if I’m tired or grumpy or hungry.  She can holler “No cry, Mama!” before I even shed a tear. She knows the prime opportunity to pounce on my weakness.  She studies me.

I bet your SWC studies you, too.  Part of that studying is defiance based, but I’m beginning to feel that the other part is relational based.  Our SWC want to know us.  They want to know what makes us angry.  What causes us to snuggle them.  They want to know what we enjoy.  They thrive on our laughter when they’re clowning around.  And the best way for you to make use of that constant studying is to study them too!

Build a relationship with your SWC and it’s like reading a textbook on what makes them tick.  Cherish their little nuances; write them down in a gratitude journal. Build tall towers and observe whether they knock them over with glee or are disappointed when they place the block that causes it to tumble.  Play ponies or dolls or cars or cops/robbers.  Spend 30 minutes a day cuddling and reading books in your bed.  Take the time to teach them new things like climbing trees or buttoning their pants.  You’ll discover all kinds of crazy things about your child that you never noticed before.

Studying your SWC has three benefits.  First, you as a parent are less likely to resent or be angered by a person you’ve spend so much time getting to know. Second, you can start to spot the situations that will cause your child’s strong will to rear it’s ugly head before or as they’re unfolding.  Finally, because you have a solid and obviously valued relationship, your SWC will be less likely to test your boundaries just because they want your attention.

But the relationship itself isn’t going to change your child’s tendency to push boundaries.  They’re born with that bent.  And like we talked about last time, that strong will is a gift that could change the world.

Next time I can escape to write another post (when my SWC isn’t busy jumping down the ladder to the pool after I said no and before I got her life vest back on, her twin isn’t chasing around frogs/lizards/snakes, and the baby isn’t eating entire leaves off the unvacuumed floor), we’ll talk about how our attitudes in the midst of a behavioral battle effect can influence the SWC’s level of defiance.  In the meantime, a few of questions to help us dive into this topic:
1. How do you intentionally  build a relationship with your Strong Willed Child?

2. Have you discovered some interesting trigger situations while studying your child? (for instance, Bronwyn looses her mind if I take something from her hand!  If I ask her to give me the object, she usually obeys immediately.)

3. What are some things you do in the midst of defiance that you think might have a huge effect on their level of defiance, both for good and bad?

Melissa is a strong-willed person raising almost 2.5 year old twins Aeralind and Bronwyn and baby brother Sedryn to the best of her ability. She blogs about the glorious God-filled moments and the moments that bring her to her knees over at Bumblebee Grace. She rarely has it all together, but she knows the One who does.