Emily, you tell me that I should pick my battles, that the more I tell him that his behavior is wrong, the more he’s going to push back at me and turn everything into an argument.
Does this mean I can’t give my kid a consequence, even when he’s acting like a total jerk? Does this mean that I just have to deal with this behavior because unless he decides on his own that he doesn’t want to be a jerk, then there’s nothing I can do about it?
I get this question a lot from parents. And it makes complete sense why I hear it so often.
After talking with me about their kid’s behaviors or scanning through my articles, they’re used to hearing me say that it’s best to avoid forcing their child to do something if at all possible, because it’s just going to turn into a fight (and that somehow this is actually a positive quality even though it seems like absolute torture right now).
Because of that, they think that using consequences for unacceptable behavior isn’t allowed, but this isn’t exactly accurate.
Sure, I warn against using punishment like spanking because the end result is the destruction of the strong-willed spirit, which shouldn’t be the goal of raising a strong willed child. But natural consequences are going to occur in life and the strong-willed child needs plenty of experience in this area to prepare him to function in this world with his strong spirit. Giving consequences to your strong-willed child is definitely acceptable, and sometimes a necessity.
Providing Consequences to a Strong-Willed Child
While it is acceptable to provide consequences to your strong-willed child, it’s easy to use consequences in an ineffective way. When deciding to use consequences with your strong-willed child, keep these tips in mind:
#1: Consequence with Caution
As adults, we tend to believe that we’re supposed to be in charge and that we know everything. The truth is, while it’s important for us to be in charge sometimes, everyone benefits–adults and kids alike–when the adults are able to recognize that they don’t know everything and they can learn from kids. (Yes…this is a true statement!)
Whenever possible, instead of using consequences to urge your child to change his behavior, try to exercise some restraint and explore the reason behind your child’s decision to really learn what’s making him act in this way.
A statement such as, “I’m wondering why you said that to your sister?” is going to lead to a deeper understanding of the cause of his behaviors and open the door to change that behavior much more effectively than “Don’t talk to your sister like that! You’re grounded!”
#2 Make it a Team Effort
You may be more accustomed to the traditional role of parenting, the one in which the adult is in charge and the kid is supposed to listen…period. In this style of parenting, the adult establishes the consequences and the child receives the punishment.
This style of discipline is quite ineffective for strong-willed children. To be more effective with consequences, it’s best to involve him in the conversation about what the consequence(s) should look like and why.
Looking to teach your #child about #respect? For the best outcome, include him in conversation about disrespectful behavior Click To Tweet
“What you just said to grandma was really disrespectful. What do you think you should do about it?”
He is likely to be able to come up with the idea to apologize to grandma on his own (or some other possible response) and this is much more effective (long term) in teaching lifelong lessons than a threat of taking away his phone or grounding him.
But Emily, what do I do if my child says “Nothing” or doesn’t think that what he did was wrong? Keep an eye out for a future article that addresses how to respond to this type of talk from your strong-willed child.
#3 Make Consequences Natural
The use of harsh punishments aimed at scaring or threatening the child into compliance can actually make behaviors (and self-esteem) worse.
It’s best to stay away from these if your goal is to help your child to learn how to act more appropriately. Instead, focusing on more natural consequences (that don’t require you to be the one who is the “giver” of the consequence) will have a stronger impact on helping you to achieve that goal.
When establishing natural consequences, think about what’s most likely to happen in the real world if this behavior were to occur when you aren’t present. You want him to learn about what’s typically going to happen to him when he acts this way, not what you’re going to do to him when he acts this way (and how he can sneak around so you don’t catch him doing it).
Sometimes, this is more about how you phrase the consequence, to ensure that it doesn’t seem like you’re doling out the consequence.
A statement such as “That’s it, I’m taking your tablet away for the rest of the night” makes it sound like you’re the bad guy, like you are the one who made the consequence happen.
But a statement such as “You are showing that you don’t know how to be respectful with the tablet and you’ve chosen to stop using it for the night” places responsibility in the hands of your child, who inadvertently chose this consequence for himself.
But Emily, what do I do if those consequences don’t work? Or if they work once but then stop working? Keep an eye out for a future article that will address how to respond to this type of strong-willed behavior.
Want more ideas about how to discourage inappropriate behavior in your strong-willed child? Download my free guide, The Busy Mom’s Guide to Raising Kids Who Actually Want to Listen, and check out:
- The Interviewer Technique
- The Limit Setting Technique
- The Rewind Technique
- The Preview Technique, and
- The Counselor Technique