Setting expectations for a strong-willed child is challenging.
You want to let her know what you expect of her (i.e. your perception of what it means to be a decent human being in this world!) but the simple act of telling her what you want her to do has the opposite effect.
Instead of instilling values and morals within her, your attempt to tell her how you expect her to act can actually fuel her desire to argue, defy, and basically do the opposite of what you’ve asked her.
And then a vicious cycle begins…
You tell her what to do; she defies it.
Others gawk and comment about how you need to just “show her who’s boss!”
You’re afraid to, but you’re also feeling judged so maybe you just do it, so people don’t think you’re a terrible mother who lets her daughter walk all over her.
You push back; she fights back harder.
This started as a simple goal to teach your daughter the values you hope to instill within her and turned in to yet another power struggle where little to no focus was on moral values (especially if people heard the thoughts screaming through your mind right at that moment!)
So often, the misconception is that a strong-willed child isn’t complying with a direction because the parent isn’t disciplining the child enough (i.e. showing the child who’s boss).
The misbehavior is misconstrued as a parenting problem when in fact it’s not about that at all. It’s about the child’s personality and the fact that the child’s personality and the parent’s expectations (and subsequent reactions) are not a good fit.
If I do have to place any blame on parenting (which as a parent who often feels blamed myself, I really try not to do!), I would argue that showing the child “who’s boss” is one of the worst things to do in this situation.
Demanding compliance in every situation just backs a strong-willed child into a corner. At some point, she’s going to come out swinging!
Showing a strong-willed #child 'who's the boss' can be one of the worst responses to strong willed behavior Click To Tweet
So how do you teach your strong-willed child the ways of the world if you can’t do it by just telling her what you want her to do?
In my practice, I encourage parents to set what I call “baseline expectations.”
Baseline Expectations VS. Micromanaging Expectations
I encourage parents of strong-willed children to get used to setting smaller expectations.
When I say smaller, I don’t mean that I want you to compromise on your morals. This isn’t transitioning from “We are kind to other people” to “Well, I guess she’s strong-willed so she can treat people however she wants, because who’s going to stop her?!”
This is NOT what I mean by smaller expectations at all.
Instead, what I mean is that I know you have an idea of exactly what you want her to do and you know exactly how she can accomplish it.
You’re smart; you’ve been around the block a time or two and you know how to handle this situation. But she wants to learn it for herself; she doesn’t want your answers, she wants to figure it out on her own.
The more you push for your way, the more she pushes for her way (or any other way besides your way) because she isn’t being given the chance to explore options and make the right choice for her.
She doesn’t necessarily think your way is wrong, but she wants to know that you respect and value her ability to make decisions and arrive at her own conclusions (even if they differ from yours).
Setting baseline expectations for a strong-willed child means you set the main idea or moral value, but you leave it up to her how she plans to implement that expectation.
She learns the general idea and then has to put in the hard work to figure out how she can meet that expectation with her skills and personality.
Setting baseline expectations helps you to encourage the main goal of the expectation (getting work done by the time it’s due is important; eating healthy is important) without micromanaging every aspect of the task.
It helps you to still teach her how to be a decent human being, but lets her decide how she wants to go about being the decent human being you want her to be!
Here are some examples of where you might be getting caught in the trap of micromanaging with your expectations, where setting baseline expectations might be more appropriate:
|Baseline Expectations||Micromanaging Expectations|
|It’s important that you finish your homework before school tomorrow. (When would you like to work on it?)||The first thing you must do when you come home is do your homework.
You must do homework here at the kitchen table where I can see you.
Do your math first, because that’s more important than your art project.
|Before it’s time to lay down for bed, we need to have a snack, brush teeth, put on pajamas, and get our stuff ready for school tomorrow. (We have to brush teeth sometime after having snack. What should we do first? And then what’s next? Etc. )||Bedtime is around the corner so you need to have a snack…we’re having apples tonight.
Now that you’re done with snack, brush your teeth.
No, we are not putting pajamas on first and then brushing teeth, it makes sense to do it in this order.
Well, you wasted all of your story time with that ‘pajamas-before-brushing-teeth-nonsense’ so now we only get to have one story and I’m going to pick it because we don’t have enough time.
|It’s important that we have fruits and vegetables at every meal. (Which fruit should we have tonight? Which vegetable do you think goes with chicken and rice?)||Tonight, we’re having chicken and rice with broccoli and apples. I know you don’t like broccoli, but you need to learn how to try things you don’t like. You’re not leaving the table until you’ve eaten at least 3 bites.|
In reality, setting baseline expectations is much simpler than setting micromanaging expectations.
However, since parents are so used to giving commands to their kids, it can be hard to transition from an overly-involved-expectation-setter to one who allows your child the freedom to understand the expectation at a deeper level.
How did this work for you? Leave a comment to share how your child reacted to your baseline expectations.