The Willful Child: Strategies to pre-empt
I’d like to say that dealing with a willful/stubborn/defiant child is an easy-task. And, that after a quick 4-week fix you will “live happily ever after.” But honesty up front is in order. With a willful child, if your wants and the baby’s wants are on the same page, life is very good; but when those wants are not aligned, life is extraordinarily challenging.
No doubt, if willfulness is a core aspect of a baby’s personality, this behavior is probably originates somewhere in the family tree. That means the challenges will always be there, but they can change for the better with parental assistance. If your baby amps up to screaming, crying, head-banging or breath-holding just because “it’s bath-time”, or leaving the house, you’ve had fair warning. Now is the time to hone your behavior management skills with your baby.
First you have to accept that your usually precious and wonderful baby can occasionally be quite frustrating and combative. If you ignore this reality, you are giving the child permission to dominate and frustrate you from now to kingdom come. Your child really doesn’t want to be in that space; the problem is triggered by an impulse to be oppositional, and they do not have the internal skill to dial it down. This has to be taught.
Here are four steps you can take to navigate this behavioral terrain:
Strategy: First, have a conscious awareness of what you are trying to achieve. Typically, your goal is to pre-empt the child’s impulse to resist and fight. That reduces the frequency of episodes. Second, you want to contain and redirect the behavior, for example, if its bath time, stating what is going to happen next and let the child choose the bath toys, the towel and soap so the intensity of the willfulness is softened. Third, you’ll want to achieve this with the calm authority of a parent who is unafraid of the child’s resistance, because you are unaffected by tears of protest.
Mitigation: No doubt, the most effective prevention tactic is having very well defined and predictable rituals and routines for daily living. Rigidity sounds counter-intuitive, but the difficult child loves limits and rules so he or she can PROVE they can function within them. Second, provide lots of love and praise for even the most routine behavioral accomplishments. Your child is hungry for your admiration of his or her creative, entertaining, independent streak!
Adaptability: With the fast growth of young children, you have to adapt your framework to accommodate those changes. Your expectations for your child’s compliance will be higher and they will have more ways to show you who’s in charge. Try to prepare your child for what’s ahead so what you want them to do becomes the very thing they want to prove they can do.
Consistency: It takes real commitment on your part to commit to behavior modification. Don’t punish yourself just because you occasionally miss an opportunity. You are in this for the long haul; enabling your child to leverage their willfulness into positive behaviors such as leadership, achievement, and most important, adult self-sufficiency in the future.