Monday, November 5, 2007

Raising a Strong-Willed Kid

Alathia-one hour after being born
If looks could kill! 18 Months

Being silly at 2.5-Notice what the shirt says!

When I was pregnant the first time I hoped that I would never have a kid who was as challenging as my brother Grant was. I saw him fight my parents on everything from the time he was an infant on, and I hoped and prayed I'd never have to experience that as a parent. Well, God must have had a good laugh. Because He sent us a child TWICE as defiant, strong-willed, and difficult as my little brother. Colter and I used to be shocked and horrified when Grant would disobey enough to get disciplined 6 times in a day. We couldn't figure out why he wouldn't learn and would not stop testing Mom. It hurt us to see him always in trouble. Now, if my daughter gets disciplined ONLY 6 times, I think we're doing really, really, really good!

Alathia is an amazing person with an friendly personality and a sweetness that can blow you away at times. I'm not trying to demonize my child or discount the blessing she truly is. But, I won't "fake-blog" like some people do and tell you my life and my children are perfect. I struggle EVERY SINGLE DAY with how to deal with my girl and how to train, and teach her and get the message across. Some days are rougher than others. Today was unbelievable. It started with me wanting to get her dressed and she asked me to hold her clothes in my left hand instead of my right. No big deal, just typical toddler wierdness, but I was already holding my son in that arm. She started throwing a fit. We told her to get out of her pajamas so we could help her get dressed. She began to scream at the top of her lungs (I'm sure the neighbors on both sides can't stand us!) and thrash in a violent tantrum. We put her in her room for a time-out. When she became violent and louder in her room we spanked her. It didn't end. King Jo missed 20 minutes of work in the escapade of screaming and thrashing that followed. He was very gentle, loving, and unemotional, which I'm thankful for. Ali is the sort of kid that WILL NOT give in. She will not give in to the promise of rewards for good behavior, she will not give in after lengthy time-outs, she will not give in if you try to reason in a sweet and gentle voice, etc. etc. She boggles our minds with her un-relenting strong will. These huge confrontations like today don't happen more than once a month, but on an average day she needs corrected a billion times and gets an average of 10 corrections per day.

I struggle as a mother in this area so much. I pictured a quiet little angelic girl who was very mature for her age and obedient to a fault. The Lord must know I would have been prideful and cocky if I had had a firstborn like that. I would have lectured other parents on how to be "better" parents. Instead I have a child who drives me to my knees in desperate prayer and humbles me with how little I know about parenting.
I used to shake my head at naughty kids in the grocery store where I worked and think, "My kids will never be like that! They will be well-trained, well-disciplined and obedient." I thought if I did all the right things, my children would be fine. A + B = C, right?

The people who know Alathia have said: "Boy, she sure has an opinion (our midwife, moments after her birth)" "She's full of it! (our librarian)" "She's a bull in a china closet" (her grandpa)" "I'm really surprised at how naughty she is because of who her parents are (a friend)" "She is definitely a stinker (the Child Psychologist who did her free screening in child development)" "Do you think she'll end up in prison? (me to my hubby on those rough days)" "She's a pistol" "She's precocious" "She's just intelligent and needs to be challenged a lot (her Grammy)" "She's a female Dennis the Menace (my dad)" "She's a one-woman wrecking crew! (also my dad)"

Believe me, we've read all the books we can find on raising strong-willed kids and how to discipline kids biblically. We've begged others for advice. Everyone seems to have an opinion on why she is the way she is or how to deal with her:

"Give her more activites/projects"

"Give her undivided attention a lot, she's jealous of her brother"

"You're too _____ (harsh, lenient, structured, unstructured, fill in the blank!)"

"You married the guy! (my dad always insinuates that she gets it from her Daddy and his family)"

"You were a mean, bossy older sister, now you have a daughter just like you! (my strong-willed brother Grant)"

"Naughty children are always a reflection of their parents. Bad parenting makes for bad kids (some of the books I've read)"

There are moments in my day where my heart swells with love for this little, tiny girl and I want to hold onto her forever. Then there are moments when I have to walk away because I feel like throttling her. Very few people understand our intense dilemma. I have met very few who can sympathize with having a child this strong-willed. All children have some independence to them but not at her level. I can't imagine Jeremiah ever acting like this! It's not just because he's still an infant either! Dealing with her at Jeremiah's age was 10 times harder than dealing with him now. He's like his Uncle Colter in that he cries when he's disciplined and isn't hasty to repeat a no-no. Ali at this age was like, "BRING IT ON! I may only be 29 inches tall but I will test you endlessly to see if you mean what you say!"

One of my biggest sorrows is that so many people instantly judge her as a brat. My nearest and dearest friends have seen her good and bad sides and accept her for who she is (even after she's knocked their kids flat on their faces), but many of my friends and acquaintances instantly write her off as completely naughty and a terror to their own children. I nearly quit library story time last year because of the humiliation of my child being the naughtiest child there. I feel like I should have a perfect child to be a good Christian witness around my non-Christian friends.
However, even though it's true she's a little pistol, I feel dual anger and pity for Alathia when people make assumptions or comments about her; people who don't even really know her! I wish she wouldn't be naughty so that people would like her and think of her as the sweet little girl she really is when she's not being defiant.

One plus to having our difficult child first is that Jeremiah seems as easy as pie! Instead of being shocked like my folks were on the last kid (after 2 easy kids), I seriously doubt we will ever have a kid with a will as strong as Ali's again! If I'm proven wrong on this calculation, you will know why my hair has suddenly turned white and I've checked myself into a Home.
King Jo feels that if Ali's will is channeled in the right direction she will be a wonderful and gifted leader someday. Because her name is the Greek word for TRUTH, I hope she will use her will to fight injustice and evil and stand for Truth.

If you have a difficult/strong-willed child or a kid in the throes of the terrible twos, please give me your helpful hints! And if you happen to have that super obedient, quiet, calm kid that so many of my friends have, please don't be cocky, but instead say a prayer for me today!


Josh & Laura Helweg said...

Lindsey this post made me realize how much you truly do do deal with!
Leah is not strong willed, but is close on some days! (I totoally identify with the 6 spankings a day is a good day) We'll see if she gets more like that when the baby comes.. (ie: jealousy or not)
I can;t imagine living with Ali in an apartment.. and having to deal with it 24/7!!! You are sure stacking up some rewards in Heaven by being a kind, loving Mom.. (Yes, even when you blow it! We all do.. :) I'll be praying for you in your "battle" for Ali...
by the way, I didn;t assume she was a brat... just strong-willed. There is a BIG difference! She's a great girl Lindsey.

Lyndi said...

thanks for being honest with what you go through, you never know who you are helping out when you share your joys and struggles.

Mrs. T said...

/hugs :(

You mentioned a screening...I have rarely seen kids with this magnitude of attitude (and I have a strong-willed, intense, high-needs, difficult child) except when there was something else going on developmentally. It's possible there is some sort of disconnect going on, where she just isn't able to connect the dots when it comes to cause and effect, not to mention a lack of empathy. A lot of kids with Asperger's act this way. It might be worth it to get her screened again; those kinds of issues are hard to diagnose at an early age.

And certainly on the other hand, you might just have an exceptionally difficult child. In which case, I pray for an extra measure of grace and strength for you. Just keep on keeping on!

Kristin said...

Lindsey, it's so ironic you wrote a post about this. I have been stuggling a great deal in this area lately and I think God is hearing my prayers and telling me "You're not alone!"

I will pray for you and I would appreciate your prayers for us as well. We also live with a strong-willed toddler and these last few days have been unbelievably hard for us as well. Yesterday was an exceptionally hard day and I had to go outside for a few minutes just to cool off. I was ready to send her off to my parents (who live 8 hours away) until they come to our house for Thanksgiving! My husband is also wonderful, (as your's is) and I seriously don't know what I would do without him.

I just don't understand how my daughter can have me laughing hysterically one minute and in tears of frustration the next. It doesn't help that I'm 9 months pregnant and am already emotional and low on patience the way it is. I often joke that Madison is going to put me into labor because I often get contractions during the tantrums.

It was interesting because we started yesterday morning off with a HORRIBLE tantrum just before leaving for church. This did not have me in a good mood when we got to church, but of course we tried to put on a "we're happy and everything is fine" face. Before the service started, a lady came up to us and was talking with us and with Madison. Right before she left, she looked at Nate and me, smiled, and said "you guys are so blessed." Nate looked sympathetically at me and whispered, "yes, we are blessed, even if it doesn't always feel like it." That really calmed me down just in time to worship.

So anyway, I can totally empathize with you. I think we can definitely relate with one another. It seems like whenever I try venting my frustrations about Madison to other people, everyone just passes it off because she always seems like such an angel around everyone else! No one believes me that that isn't always the case. So that gets hard on me because I feel like I always have to pretend everything is okay, because even when it isn't, no one (except my husband) believes me.

I, like you, don't want others to get the wrong idea here. I love my daughter with all my heart. But I also have to be honest and say that there are days that I would just like to resign as a mother.

So just know, that you are not alone and if you ever need someone to vent to, I am always available!

Mrs. Jo said...


I'm so glad to know you were encouraged by this post today. I almost deleted because I thought perhaps it was portraying my child in too negative of a light. Yes, she is often strong-willed, but I don't think she has a medical problem and those explosive, unbelievably defiant tantrums don't happen often, though daily little challenges to my authority do happen and need to be dealt with and this gets tiring.
Your response brought a tear to my eye as I realized that there are other parents out there who do "get it" and understand the frustration at times. I was hoping someone would say that this is all part of having a two year old, but from watching other people's 2 year olds, I know that not ALL 2 year olds are as defiant or strong-willed! Is it wrong of me to hope that somewhere down the line my friends with "perfect" kids get blessed with "fiesty" ones to keep them humble?
Being pregnant and taking care of Ali at the same time was very challenging for me (me having a shorter fuse and all and her going through her take her diaper and throw poop all over the room stage) but having her hurt her little brother makes me snap too even though I'm not pregnant! I think kids have this crazy ability to know exactly how to push us to the limits!
It's funny that your little girl makes everyone think she's an angel, leaving you feeling alone in your dilemma, and my little girl makes everyone think she's a hellion, making me feel embarrassed, when really she is incredibly funny and smart at home a lot of the time! I'm sure both of our girls will outgrow this terrible stage and we will come out of it MUCH more patient than before. Praise the Lord for hubbies who don't lose it and can help us in those desperate times of need! Can you imagine being a single mother of a strong-willed child?
I definitely have my days of wanting to resign (especially this week between tantrums/lots of barf/sleepless nights with a sick baby, etc.) I'm also scared my neighbors will turn us in for child abuse because even if we're not spanking her or touching her she will shriek at the top of her lungs and scream "NO, NO, NO! Aaaaaahhhhh!" It sounds like she's being murdered! I've had those temptations to ship her off to Grammy's too! But then she'll wrap her arms around me out of the blue and say something cute, like "I love you berry much Mommy" or "You are my fwend (friend)!"
What an up and down rollercoaster it is to parent toddlers!
Hang in there! Maybe someday we'll be able to encourage other young mamas or even Ali and Madison as they parent their own little "born leaders." =)

Thanks to the others who left comments too!
Mrs. T: The screening wasn't because I thought she had a medical problem, but was a free check-up in our community to see if she's doing well in motor skills/verbal communication, etc. She was rated the highest level of achievement possible in every category, in spite of them concluding that she was a stinker and would only cooperate on her own terms! My strong-willed brother is a brilliant bike mechanic and has been a builder, artist, mechanic, since he was around 8 years old. He always had, and still does have, a following of kids/teens flocking around him wherever he goes, looking to him for leadership. We pray he comes to Christ because God could do great things with his talents and natural charisma and leadership abilities.

Jason & Tanya said...

Oh Lindsey,
I want you to know that even though I haven't seen or really been around you guys or Ali for that matter in a couple of months I have never once thought or it has never crossed my mind that she was a brat. I have thought exactly the same thing that you have said she is a very strong willed child. There is a big difference.

I have had (and still at times) have a strong willed child to an extent too. I remember spanking him dozens of times and then the GO TO TIME OUT days. I remember spanking him and him not being phased at it. I would BEG God to not let him be one of those kids who goes into school and shoots aimlessly. I felt that out of control with him sometimes. I too read all the books and still couldn't figure out what to do because nothing worked. I read Bringing Up Boys with James Dobson and that helped a little bit but he was still not "Angelic" When he started Kindegarten (there is no way that he and I would have survived on homeschool. One of us would have died I am sure of it):)We put him in the Christian Academy here and he did ok the FIRST month. Then he figured out the teacher and she basically gave up. I paid for babysitting basically. Hind sight 20/20, I would have taken him out and suffered through homeschool. He is now in 1st grade and has Mrs. Burke and life is good, so far. I am hoping that with this change that we can teach him to channel his strong willness into a more (what's the word? better?!) place. He's been tested by the K teacher for ADHD, DYSLEXIA, I mean she just thought that he was definitely troubled. She even had the gall to ask us if we were having marital problems at home!

Anyway, my point in all of this is this, no matter how strong willed Ali is, do not and I mean DO NOT let anyone tell her she is a brat. I know Ali most likely does not have the things that Nathan has...I was just saying that to prove there was something else going on and the fact that the teacher thought that he was "BRATTY or over indulged" basically that was her conclusion, you and "King Jo" will have the opportunity to direct and channel this into something good if not GREAT. She will do many great things in her life and what really worked with Nathan was that we really have tried to focus on the good and the great rather than the bad. You've probably read that and I know you guys don't but it worked for us (if only for a second).

By the way, Nathan does not have dyslexia OR ADHD. He is just strong willed and when he is done, he is done. He needs someone who can handle him meaning that they give him limits and there is no wavering on those limits.

Also I want to encourage you to keep it up. You are both great parents, I have seen you two in action. Eventually she will figure it out. It might not be today or tomorrow or next year but she will figure it out eventually. You guys are an amazing team!

I will definitely be praying for you.

Jason & Tanya said...

P.S. LOVE. THE. SHIRT! Patience tester! How funny!

Mrs. Jo said...

Thanks Tanya! It was good to hear from someone with an older kid on this issue. I hope that with each year in school Nathan is able to grow in his self-control and ability to listen. You brought up an interesting point about homeschooling. Sometimes I am nervous about homeschooling such a strong-willed kid day in and day out, but I know God will give me the strength. I'm glad Nathan has a good teacher, Mrs. Burke, whom I've heard is really good with strong-willed kids.
Thanks for the encouragement! It is too bad I don't see more of you, but at least we can get to know each other better in the blogosphere!

Mrs. T said...

I think there's a misconception out there about kids with social disorders like Aspbergers. Most of them are particularly gifted in many areas and exceptionally intelligent. Having an issue in one area doesn't mean there is an issue in other areas, like physical development or cognitive development. :) Most autistic kids I've met and worked with are extremely smart, they just have a disconnect in the way they relate to us or to the world.

But I'm totally not saying that's what's going on. Just something to think about perhaps, nothing to worry about. :D

Anonymous said...

OOhh, I have one of these. Actually, I have two of these. I know exactly how you are feeling!

I wasn't going to comment here; I have more to say than I have time to write, but I figured I'd do a Reader's Digest version & attempt to encourage you anyway...

For starters, the qualities that make it SO difficult to parent a SWC are the very things that will be so beneficial in them when they are older. Peer pressure - not an issue. People pleaser - no chance! I'm speaking from the other side, here; I WAS one of these kids! I'm sure I couldn't possibly have been that bad, though ;-)

Another thought; James 2:13 says 'mercy triumphs over judgment'. I think that applies every bit as much to parenting as some of the Proverbs scriptures we use so much. Often, my little guy responds better when I touch his heart rather than his heiny. I am careful to let him know I am administering mercy, lest he think he got away with something!

For those days when you beat yourself up, cause 'God must've picked the wrong momma for this one!' (I can only assume other mom's feel like this when they can't seem to get through to their kiddos...) let me share something my husband reminds me of: God was a perfect parent, but look at Adam & Eve ~ they still choose to sin. (not that that gives us license to be less than faithful with our children....)

Lastly, I would encourage you to look at her diet; I have found that my children (all of them, not only the SW'd ones) have less self-control when they consume sugar. Which is a booger, cause I like to treat my children to 'yummy goods', and they sure like to eat 'em....
I didn't figure this one out until we stopped eating sugar(in pretty much everything, except for very occasional homemade goodies) behavior problems were rare. It was pretty easy to see a pattern of sugar/negative behavior when we didn't regularly eat sugar.
Hmmm. I'm thinking we've been eating a few too many cookies around here again. Darn! I like cookies!

Also.. if you don't mind, I have a couple more shoe-sewing questions for ya. (thanks for all the great tips on finding leather!!)
Did you wash & dry the leather like Misty recommends before you made the shoes?
Did you do anything special to help the leather glide as you sew (it hadn't occured to me that this could be a problem) like using powder or paper or something?

Oh and one more thought ~ books are great, but they aren't gospel & the writer doesn't know YOUR child with her specific needs & qualities. I am a huge reader, but honestly, sometimes I wish I'd never heard of 'insert any child-trainer person's name here'
I once read "There are no strong-willed children, only weak-willed mothers."

Hang in there, Sweetie!

Jason & Tanya said...

I would second that comment by Tracy. We also found that the less sugar both of my children had the less problems that we had. Even juice is filled with sugar so I have made sure they don't get very much if any at all. My kids like tea so I make tea and sweeten it with honey. I had always heard that sugar made you hyper but I never truly believed it until I had kids of my own.

Jason & Tanya said...

Oh, and the homeschool deal, like I said if I had to do it over again I would have pulled him out and homeschooled him last year. However we were a newly homeschool family and I really wanted to get a handle on it with Jenna before starting with him. I really thought that things would turn around for him. Of course they never did. I loved homeschool with Jenna and I think I've discussed the reasons for homeschooling Jenna last year with you. If not let me know and I can fill in some gaps. I got sick right after school started this year, I ended up with pneumonia pretty bad and I felt she was falling behind and so I placed her back in the Christian Academy this year which has been a blessing for all of us. So I guess what I am saying is that I think that God will give you what you need to homeschool Ali and Jeremiah and there is so much stuff in the community now with homeschooling, I feel left out now, that I am sure someone could give you some pointers or even some relief when you can't deal with it anymore. :) Sorry to comment two or three or four times on this subject!

Mrs. Jo said...

Mrs. T,

Thanks for the info about Asperger's. I will definitely keep it in mind as a possibility to look into!

Thanks for the encouragement and sympathy. I could stand to be more merciful and that is a good reminder for me. Maybe touching her heart more instead of spanking would help.
I laughed out loud at your comment on how someone said there are no strong-willed children, just weak-willed mothers! No one who knows me would call me weak! I strongly suspect Ali gets a lot of stubbornness from her Mama! However, people that say those things obviously don't have kids like ours! My mom is one of the strongest people I know and if she hadn't been, she would have never survived my brother.
I had never really thought about the sugar thing. I try to keep our kids healthy but the Mexican neighbors' kids gorge on sugar all day long and often offer her candy and sweets when she's out playing in the yard at our apartments. It drives my husband crazy because the other night she went to their house to play and they ended up letting her watch a kid's movie and eat TONS of oreos. So many, in fact, I found out later, that she barfed them all up in the middle of the night. No, this wasn't a return of the flu, just being over-indulged. Our neighbors are sweet and trustworthy and safe, but I have to guard her like a hawk to see that she doesn't get sugar or watch inappropriate things or just too many Kid's Movies in general. It's awful because our neighbors believe in spoiling kids rotten and think I'm so mean if I make her come home. The mom will even contradict me sometimes and tell me Ali can stay and eat after I have said no. The mom, who is a dear friend, will even plead with me. Ali will run over to her and say, "Lupe says it's okay!" Ali adores Lupe because she knows Lupe will give her ANYTHING she wants. Lupe's daughters were absolute terrors/tantrum throwers when they first came to America. After a year here, they've grown up a bit and calmed down (age 5 and 6) but they still consume tons of sugar. The parents set no limits on sugar or TV. Our Mexican neighbors have never heard of giving kids plain white milk without chocolate milk powder in it. Everyone they know in Mexico does it too. They still feed their 3 year olds from baby bottles if the kid so desires. Their birthday parties consist of tons of pinata candy, cake and ice-cream, jell-0, lots and lots of pop, more candy, etc. Even though I try to closely monitor the sugar thing at home, I'll have to be even more of a "Meanie" with the neighbors.

Feel free to pass along any homeschooling tips you may have. Maybe in the future you will be able to do it if everything is going well with your health and your new daughter (when she actually comes). If not, at least LCA is a top-notch school. Hopefully I'll see you soon!

Mrs. Jo said...

I forgot to answer your leather-shoe ?s. Yes, I wash and dry the leather before using and it doesn't seem to hurt it. Sometimes I'm lazy and don't do this and the shoes don't seem to shrink much after they've been washed. So, you can take or leave this advice. It might depend on the leather.
I haven't needed to powder my leather at all. My simple sewing machine does a good job. I have found that sometimes you need to fiddle with your tension and that having too thick of thread (like upholstery) causes lots of jams and problems, but having too thin of thread causes the thread to often snap when sewing leather. I use quilting thread or strong, but not too thick stuff. A really thick or heavy duty needle might be good, but mine works with a regular needle too.

Anonymous said...

thanx ~ T.

Anonymous said...


I was drawn to your blog solely by this post. You see, I have a 7 year old who was at 2, EXACTLY as you describe your Ali. Testing has shown no physically or mentally causes but she continues to test us daily. She has issues with impulse control and anger management. Note: she is our 2nd, our first is the most placid, easy going and sweet kid you could meet. So that comforts me in that it's not JUST my "bad parenting" as people are so quick to assume.

I have a meeting scheduled with a Christian counselor who is a specialist in behavioral issues such as this. She adopts high-need kids that others have written off as difficult, angry and destructive (including those abused and drug addicted.) Those same kids today are the kindest, sweetest, most well adjusted I've ever met and are adoringly devoted to her. She told me "It's never too late to help challenged kids develop coping and social skills." She seems like she'll be an answer to prayer.

I'll write you after I meet with her with her suggestions! Prayers for you and your family!

Tania said...

I can relate to having strong-willed children. I have three boys, 4, 2, 10 months. My first was very strong-willed. Now my husband and I don't consider him strong-willed at all. Structure helps them. If they are going through a hard stage I just don't put myself in a position to be embarrassed. No restaurants, no store, and if I do have to do somethings--like church I just anticipate the signs that they show. (Like that look they give before a fit) If I see that I quietly wisk them away to a room or bathroom and have a talk. So much good advice has already been given, but somedays I did the best I could and kept reminding my self that this too shall pass and it really does.
I have to admit I am extremely hesitant to ever allow them to go anywhere without my husband or me. In fact they never have been to anyone's house without us that is not a Christian and in agreement with our beliefs and philosophy. I just think that so much damage can be done that we don't know about, unsupervised TV, attitudes, different authority, and then of course the dreaded things that we hope never happen to anyones children.
I second the cutting down on the sugar. I don't let our boys have juice at all. Water is usually what they get and they know it. White milk for breakfast or in their cereal. Whenever I notice that they are in the habit of something like for a long time we would allow them to have chocolate milk when they got up in the morning and all the sudden I noticed they were saying, "where is my chocolate milk" (demand-style). So we quickly stopped that. I just try to shake things up a bit so they don't get so used to things that they think they have to have it or it is owed to them. Well the baby is up and I have rambled enough. Thanks for your post about this.

Pin It
Pin It
Pin It