The surprising thing about strong will

Jan, 18, 2021

…. Is that strong will is healthy. Commonly we speak about strong will in children as if it is a diagnosis. Something that needs curing. And preferably without us having to look at our own share in how this character trait has become a problem for the family.

I think we are all aware that we affect our children. But we might forget to consider how our children affect us too. We are in constant relationship. Who your child is and how your child behaves- brings out in you sides that can feel at odds with the parent you want to be. Because it can sting to really look and get curious about where our own behaviour and emotional wounds hinder our child’s emotional maturation.

I know – because my daughter’s strong will showed me where I had some maturing and healing to do myself. These things are never pointed out in kind and gentle ways. But in the repetitive cycles of helplessness, anger, guilt and sadness – that leave both you and your child exhausted. Hardened and lonely. These are what you might now as power struggles.

Easy versus difficult babies

All children are born with a certain temperament that becomes clear to us soon after birth.
‘He’s such an easy baby’
‘He’s such a handful’

… we will say to friends and family in the first year of baby’s life.

While I wouldn’t admit to the world at the time that my daughter fell into the latter category I soon realised that I was utterly unprepared for how to manage the strong willed character trait that was evident from the moment she came into this world.

While some children change expression once they hit toddlerhood – most children who show a certain tenacity and insistence in life generally come into this world with a life force from day one. One that can either lead to constant conflict and power struggles or act as an invitation. To raise yourself. To look at what gets triggered in you when your child defies you – and how to tend to these feelings in ways that allows you to see your child for what he/she is; A child – who has a lot to learn. But not an enemy.

A strong willed child challenges our beliefs

Perhaps part of you can see that your child’s strong will is good. Just not right now. But in the future. When applying for a dream job and getting a no. When negotiating their salary and fighting for important causes.
Strong will is a life force that allows a person to achieve their goals and use it as a force for good. But that is not to say that it is easy to parent. Especially if we cling on to ideas about the parent child relationship that date back to a time before advances in attachment theory, neuropsychology and child psychology in general.

A strong willed child will force us to question some of the beliefs that we may hold about parenting. Thoughts and beliefs that we’ve perhaps absorbed throughout our own upbringing.

  • Weren’t we supposed to be in control and demand respect?
  • Wasn’t it supposed to be a given that we lead and the child follows?
  • And weren’t the ultimatums and a healthy dose of shame that we were raised on supposed to get the child to back down?

Those are some of the thoughts you might wrestle with if you are the mum or dad of a child who does not automatically follow your lead or seem to be intimidated when you reach for strategies that you don’t ultimately agree with but believe might be your best bet in the heat of the moment.

Perhaps you’re familiar with these strategies:

  • Yelling.. perhaps even SCREAMING
  • Getting forceful
  • Using intimidation
  • Shame
  • Comparisons (to siblings or other ‘normal’ children)
  • Threats
  • Bribes
  • Ignoring

Rarely do we talk about this kind of utter desperation with other parents at the school gate. Perhaps we imagine that no one else will stoop so low that they throw they actually throw their child’s toys in the bin. Or threaten to cancel their birthday party. Or shout at the top of their lungs.

It feels too shameful to admit. Because this is not what we were told could happen when we become parents. That our children could bring us in touch with so many emotions that we didn’t even know we were capable of feeling.

But alas – they can!
And this .. my friend.. is not a bad thing.
Because your child – especially the one out of all of your children who triggers you the most – is your biggest teacher.

Change YOUR response… and your child will follow

You heard right. Consider the idea that your child has something to teach you. Not knowingly. But as a result of the combustion that happens when you are at locker heads. Does this sound far fetched?
I get that. But I also know that such a belief gives rise to new ways of approaching the same stuck dynamic because you are inviting something new in.

My daughter’s strong will marked the beginning of a journey that I would have never imagined possible if you had asked me some 6 years ago.
I had to swallow a bit of pride and put my fancy degree in psychology aside in order to admit that despite knowing an awful lot of theory- there was something about myself and my daughter’s frequent defiance that I could not fix with the tools I had access to at the time.

If nothing changes – nothing changes

Do you ever catch yourself thinking:

When my child stops being so stubborn – THEN I will change my approach?
My child just needs to know when to stop – THEN we won’t have these destructive power struggles

It’s a common trap we fall into. Putting the onus on our child. Waiting for them to sort themselves out. The trouble is just; they can’t. Not without our help. Children need their adult to show the way and to assume responsibility for the current situation. Not because it’s your fault – or because we are interested in fault at all. But because children don’t have the emotional and cognitive resources to change relationship dynamics on their own.

Therefore, a fundamental step towards the kind of relationship you yearn to have with your strong-willed child is to assume responsibility for the quality of this relationship. And the good news is – this way you are not having to wait for the world, your partner or your child to change. You start by changing your own approach.

When YOU let go of the other end of the rope your child will have no reason to be in a tug of war with you.
When YOU stop meeting force with force – you will no longer have explosive encounters.
When YOU learn to work WITH your child’s strong will and desire for autonomy – you will be able to satisfy your child’s needs in ways that are okay with you – so that you can set limits more peacefully.

Seeking support is not a sign of weekness

My career path revealed itself to me through this difficult dynamic. The training and studying I undertook in my native Denmark showed me a different way. One that I am passionate to share with you. Because, parenting is one of the toughest jobs on the planet – and I strongly believe that we weren’t meant to figure it all out by ourselves.

One of my favourite quotes is:
‘It takes a village to raise a child’

The perspective, the help and support of someone who’s not on the inside can fast track you to the kind of feeling you wish to have as a parent and the kind of family dynamic and relationship that you yearn for.

Whether strong will or other aspects of your child’s behaviour or your own reactions get in the way of feeling good about family life – 1:1 parent coaching sessions is an investment in your family that will benefit everyone.

You can trust that the advice I offer is rooted in the latest research into child development, attachment and neuropsychology. And that the solutions to your current difficulties always consider both yours and your child’s needs. There’s no win for you – without there being a win for your child.

Contact me – to see how we can work together. Or book a free 30 minute clarity call with me to see if parent coaching is the right thing for you.

I wish you all the very best

Much love,

Louise Brooks

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