Then you probably have a toddler. And you probably have a serious case of exhaustion! It’s a tireless task to parent a strong-willed child and although they loudly declare, “I CAN DO IT,” it doesn’t always mean that they can or should–which can often lead to more drama.
I was recently reminded of this passion and spirit when I received a video of my 20 month old niece as she refused her diaper and insisted on putting on underwear. It began with her concentrated look as she sat down and tried to figure out how you put the first foot in the first leg hole, and as she did, she determinedly stated, “Yay.” She then looked directly in the camera, raised her eyebrows and shouted, “I CAN DO IT!” On to the next foot, she placed it directly in the same hole as the other foot and with a determined frown, encouraged herself with another, “Yay.” As she stood up and tried to walk with both legs in the same leg hole, the look on her face was one of pure triumph! Like a lot of leaders, she knew that success is 90% confidence and 10% results. Shuffling across the room to move on with her day, as if all was right in the world, she looked back one more time at her audience to erase any doubt, and flashed a sassy little look as she calmly and confidently said, “I do it.”
As the Aunt, I enjoyed replaying the video again and again, laughing at each little expression of will and independence, noticing little flashes of frustration mixed with determination. But the mom in me may have shuddered a little as I identified with the intensity that a little spirit like this creates. A tiny, pig-tailed toddler who’s limited vocabulary contains a strong declaration like “I CAN DO IT!” can call for a bigger-picture parenting approach when you are weary from the third time this morning of “redirecting” your little Sassy McSasster.
Keep in mind the following as you help to direct them toward “confident, compassionate leader” and away from “tyrannical bossy pants.”
- Remember, this is a gift! A strength! Children with strong wills can grow up to be adults with strong convictions, good work ethics, and movers and shakers. We all have strengths that left unchecked become our weakness, so help them find tools early on to use their powers for good and not evil.
- Empower them with special jobs! Speak their language and show them that you appreciate who they are. “Hey! This looks like a job for Logan! Logan, can you help me put the groceries away? I knew you could do it! Thank you!”
- Choices are a parent’s magic wand. Avoid getting into a power struggle with your demanding diva and see if you can re-word your “No!” into, “The juice might be too heavy for you to pour by yourself, but can you choose what cups we need and tell me when to stop filling them?”
- Celebrate good choices and self control! My little niece was familiar with a little healthy self-encouragement with her “yays” along the way. She must have learned that before from her higher-ups. 🙂 As the chief rule-enforcers, we can sometimes get a little heavy on the “don’ts” and a little light on the “do’s.” Make a point to get eyeball to eyeball with them and use your “happy face” to say, “I like how you waited your turn to go down the slide this time! Great choice!!”
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Sure, grocery store onlookers may judge you for your little girl who is wearing snow boots, a sun dress, and a tiara. But, who cares! You know how to choose your battles, and your little confident stylist was really proud of her fashion choices. Maybe Tuesdays are Choosedays. And maybe Sundays are “Would you like to wear these shoes or these shoes?” days. Here’s a great book called, I Do It Myself about celebrating independence.
Keeping your cool–because they can smell your fear–and reminding them that their choices have consequences (good and bad) is a life-long value that can never be practiced too early. Go easy on yourself. We all have good days and better days. You are your child’s best parent and you’re doing a great job!
This post brought to you by Jenny Leggett who still daily practices to be better at verbally expressing the positives more than the negatives with her dynamic trio of wills AKA children. 🙂