You cannot believe he just did that! What was he thinking? Why did he have to go and ruin this perfect moment between the two of you by doing that?
And why on earth did he think that it was even OK to do that in the first place?
The silence between the two of you is awkward and deafening. You have to do something. But what?
Your instinct tells you to jump to punishment.
You’re going to time out for that, mister!
Just for that, I’m taking away your iPad time today!
Or worse, maybe you even feel like saying something that will really get him, really make him feel sad so that he’ll realize what an inappropriate choice he has just made:
Well, see if I plan any more special mommy-son dates if you’re going to act like that!
Your instinct tells you that it’s your responsibility as a parent to do this (or maybe it’s all that pressure that you feel from those outsiders who have so many comments about how you should be raising your kids?) because at least you’re doing something, taking action to show your kid that what he just did was unacceptable and you do not want to see it again.
But if your child happens to be a strong-willed child, taking an action such as this can be much further from a solution to the problem than you might imagine.
You see, the point of your response in this situation is two-fold:
- Stop the behavior from continuing (or escalating), and
- Help your child to understand why the behavior was inappropriate
With a strong-willed child, I can promise you that #1 will rarely (if ever) be accomplished with threats of punishment. Instead, reactions such as these can actually escalate the situation, acting as fuel for the very fire that you’re trying to put out!
If you’ve ever found yourself caught in an argument with a strong-willed child, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Any attempt to punish or provide consequences may only escalate the situation, and cause more tension between the two of you.
And neither of these is what you want in that situation!
But if providing consequences doesn’t work, how do you still respond appropriately as a parent to help him to understand that his behavior should not be repeated, while also working to diffuse the situation so that you both can survive the argument?
Below I outline 4 tips to remember the next time you find yourself caught in an argument with a strong-willed child.
Step #1: Remain Calm
I know…you’re very upset. He just did something that made your eyes bug out, so how are you supposed to remain calm?
In this moment, try to remind yourself that you know that your attempts to change his behavior are only going to escalate the behavior into an argument. He can argue anything, and starting an argument right now is not going to make his behavior go away. But it will create yet another battle for you!
Instead of saying what’s on your mind (i.e. some of those threats, or even some other words you hate to admit right now), take a moment to remind yourself that you are in the driver’s seat.
If you can remain calm, he has no reason to escalate. However, if you become upset, then you know he will quickly jump into defensive mode. He may not have the ability to regulate his emotions right now, but you do (well, hopefully, depending on the day and how many cups of coffee you’ve had!).
As a counselor, I’ve had the opportunity to witness this first-hand on a regular basis. If both people in the argument keep escalating the situation, it can skyrocket and explode. But, if one person chooses not to raise the intensity, the other person has no reason to.
If you can remain calm, he doesn’t have any reason to take it up a notch.
Step #2: Use Logic
Probably because of all of that pressure from older generations, your first instinct is likely to threaten that consequence. For so many people, the belief is that if you can become harsh quickly, you’ll get your message across quickly and the argument will be over.
However, with a strong-willed child, this simply isn’t the case. A strong-willed child wants to know the why behind everything. Threatening a punishment to scare him from wanting to do this again in the future typically isn’t going to work for this type of kid.
But information, well that’s a powerful thing!
Instead of threatening (or arguing), try to explain using logical examples.
You might be saying, “OK…this seems to make sense. But how do I use logic when my kid is being so illogical?”
That’s a great question! Once again, you are in the driver’s seat. You not only have the opportunity to help keep the disagreement under control (i.e. staying calm) but you also have the opportunity to tip the scales in favor of logic, versus threats of punishment.
Take a look at the table below that shows you how to replace a threatened consequence (your gut instinct that also tends to be ineffective for a strong-willed child) with a response that caters to their need for logic and knowledge.
|That’s it…you’re going to time out.||When you say things like that, it hurts others’ feelings. Your friends may choose not to play with you if you keep hurting their feelings.|
|I’m taking the iPad away today.||You just showed me that you’ve forgotten to show respect. I can’t allow you to play with the iPad if you don’t know how to show respect for it, because it could get broken.|
|Well, we’re not going to go to the zoo today anymore.||You just showed me that you’ve forgotten to listen. Unfortunately, we cannot go to a place like the zoo if you aren’t listening, because it would be unsafe for you.|
Notice how in the left column, you have a threat. If misbehavior occurs, this threat emerges. For the strong-willed child, the left column is just a challenge for him to overcome.
But on the right, we have life’s natural consequences included in a logical, conversational form. For the strong-willed child, there isn’t a threat, just a cause and effect experience that sheds more light on why his behavior was inappropriate.
Step #3: Don’t be the Expert (He Doesn’t Think You are Anyway)
When using logic to explain the misbehavior to your child, be careful not to jump into the expert role. As adults, we’re always so tempted to jump in and be the expert.
We think that we know best, always. (Maybe that’s because we relish the fact that we finally get to be the expert, after years of our own elders harping on us for every little thing we did!)
Even though we love to be the expert—and in some situations, it’s very important that we step up and take on that role—we don’t always have to be the expert. And with strong-willed kids, often the most effective conversations take place when adults are not in the expert role.With #strong-willed #kids, the most effective conversations take place when adults are not in the expert role. Click To Tweet
If you have a strong-willed child, you know that your child is likely to disagree with most of the information you have to share with him anyway:
Child: Mom, why is that bunny eating those flowers?
Mom: Well, I guess it’s probably because he’s hungry.
Child: No, that’s not it. Those are super power flowers and he wants all the super powers.
Since you know that most of what you say will be a topic of argument between the two of you anyway, reserve your expert role for the times when it’s most needed. When your expertise isn’t needed, be prepared to stand back and let him be the “expert” (with your guidance, of course).
I’ll talk more about how to do this in the last step.
Step #4: Help him to figure it out for himself
As you’ve probably learned by now, he thinks you know very little about the way the world works. Your logic is inferior to his, and he knows best.
So instead of turning this argument into a huge lecture in which you tell him what’s wrong with his behavior, how he should act and what you want him to do to get to that point, instead turn it into a coaching opportunity where he can figure out the answers (with your help).
To do this, I recommend The Narrator Technique, arguably the most important and effective technique in my Busy Mom’s 9 Step Guide to Raising Kids who Actually Want to Listen.
I use this technique in my therapy sessions daily to help kids learn how to resolve their own problems and come up with their own solutions (because they’re much more likely to accept their solutions than the ones I offer to them).
In the narrator technique, the adult simply acts as the narrator of the situation that the child is currently experiencing. As you narrate, the child is given opportunities to chime in and clarify your narrations, resulting in the child coming to his own conclusion about why he did what he did (and perhaps what he could do differently next time).
Mom: You saw the ice cream truck, so you ran away from me without asking my permission.
Child: Yeah. I wanted ice cream.
Mom: You wanted ice cream so much that you forgot to ask my permission.
Child: Yeah. I forgot.
Mom: You were just so excited about ice cream that you didn’t even notice that I was calling your name or that I was telling you that I was worried about your safety.
Child: Uh huh…I didn’t hear you.
Mom: So it wasn’t that you weren’t listening. You just didn’t hear me at all.
Child: Yeah. Look…they have fudge pops.
Mom: You’re distracted by the fudge pops. You don’t see how worried I am about this.
Child: I’m safe mom. I made it here all by myself.
Mom: You think that it’s OK because you’re safe right now.
Child: Yeah. I’m safe.
Mom: You made it here safe, but you crossed the street without me.
Child: That’s not OK, right mom?
Mom: Right…that’s dangerous. That’s why my face looked so worried. I was worried that you were going to get hurt.
For more detail on how to use The Narrator Technique and to access all 9 of my techniques, including the techniques, when to use them (and better yet, when not to use them!) and some examples to help you put them into practice, sign up for my free guide here.
If you’re frustrated with the amount of time you spend arguing with your very strong-minded child, take a break from all of that arguing and test out these techniques.
See if they save you some time and get you to the outcome you were hoping for without all of the arguing, threatening and crying that you’ve become so accustomed to.
I’d love to hear your story. What are your biggest challenges when caught in an argument with your child? And if you’ve tried other tips besides these and have found success, I’m sure other moms would love to hear about your success stories!