“Why did you do that after Mommy just said ‘no?'”
*shrug* “Because I wanted to.”
If you’re anything like me, a response like the one above from a 3-year-old would be enough to make your blood boil. I was at my whit’s end.
What do you do when you feel like nothing is working? When you’ve reasoned? It went in one ear and out the other. You’ve sat her in time out? And she repeated the same behavior as soon as she got up. You’ve done behavior charts? Meh, who cares, Mom. You’ve yelled? You might as well have been talking to a tree. You’ve cried in the bathroom while wishing you had some wine? Seriously, someone save me and my sanity.
Parenting a strong-willed child can be exhausting. The tears. The whining. The outbursts. Sometimes those are enough to make you go batty in and of themselves.
But don’t ask too many people for their opinions or some support. Because let’s be real, everyone gives advice and has their opinion on how parents should raise their kids (and no matter what you do, they’re watching and judging), but unless they’ve lived with your children, they really have no idea what in the world you’re going through. Kids are all different, and what works with my first and third littles sure as heck doesn’t work with my second.
God, I need to see your wisdom!
My Come-to-Jesus Meeting with God
And then He started to show me something: Sometimes, I act a lot like my 3-year-old. Yikes. I like to do things my way. There are times when it’s hard for me to swallow correction. I learn (often the hard way) by making mistakes. I can be highly sensitive and can buck authority. And yet, He’s always so gentle in the way He guides and corrects me.
Sometimes, the people who Jesus encountered acted a lot like my 3-year-old, too. People who got themselves into messes by doing things they knew they shouldn’t have done. But we see Him use the same method again and again: connect and then correct.
We read Paul’s letters and see that there were some really serious issues going on in some of the groups of Christians back then (none of us are perfect!), but we see him guiding and giving wisdom through the Spirit instead of reacting to their behaviors out of the flesh.
And then God reminded me of a verse, and it launched me toward discovery:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:18 (NKJV, emphasis mine)
Punishment, Fear, and Control vs. Discernment
He doesn’t punish us. There may be natural consequences to the choices we make, but He doesn’t use scare tactics to “make us mind.”
In the tactics I was using, my main goal was to scare my daughter out of doing the behavior, to try to make her fear punishment so that I could control how she was acting. How many times had I thought that phrase (or even said it under my breath) before becoming a parent? Control your children. But my daughter was showing me I literally couldn’t “control” her, especially not with fear. And now, God was showing me I wasn’t supposed to.
So what exactly was the answer? That’s the thing about parenting a strong-willed child (or any child) like God would–there is no “one-size fits all” method. It’s going to vary in every situation. That’s where discernment comes in through the Spirit. We can use it to look beyond what we see with our natural eyes and understand what’s really happening below the surface in our babies.
Gentleness: for Parenting a Strong-Willed Child or ANY Child
One of the greatest resources I’ve stumbled upon is a Gentle Parenting group on Facebook. Now, I know the connotation some of us hear in our heads when we read the words “gentle parenting.” For some reason, it gives this image of a push-over mom, allowing her children to get away with murder all while standing on the sideline gently saying, “we don’t do that, honey.” There’s a stigma that says if you’re gentle with your kids, they’ll grow up to be jerks.
But what I’ve discovered is something much different. It’s what I was looking for.
Gentle parenting isn’t passive or highly permissive. It doesn’t just let the issue at hand slide by, unaddressed. Instead, it’s a calm confidence. It’s guiding children and correcting them without the (often damaging) reactions that are common in more widely-accepted parenting styles. It’s more about teaching your child and stewarding them instead of using force. Like Jesus, gentle parenting says connect before you correct.
I definitely haven’t perfected that yet. I’m a work in progress. But every small step is a win. Every time I pause and listen instead of getting angry, every time I get down on their level and tell them I understand how they’re feeling but that’s not the way to act, every time I ask God for the words before I open my mouth: that’s a win!
Say “No” to the Side Effects
You may be thinking: doesn’t that take a lot of time? Yes, yes it does. And even more patience.
Having a harsher reaction is much quicker, and I always thought I was nipping the behavior in the butt swiftly by having a more stern approach. But the issue with harsher parenting tactics is they may or may not actually stop the behavior, and even if they do, there are likely to be other effects that hitch a ride. It’s kind of like those medication commercials on TV. This drug can help with such-and-such disorder, but be aware, it may also cause…
My oldest and my youngest children both have illustrated this issue perfectly for me. On days when my patience runs thin, and I yell, I notice that my 5-year-old (who happens to be one of the sweetest kids in the world) also starts to act more aggressive, raising his voice at his sisters when they do something he doesn’t like. That’s the behavior that he’s seeing me model. Mommy doesn’t like what so-and-so is doing, so she yells. So if I don’t like my sister touching my stuff, I should yell.
My other example is my youngest. When she turned one, I started tapping her hand and telling her “no, no” if she went after something she wasn’t supposed to grab. I thought that was the right way to teach her when she couldn’t touch something. Instead, it taught a different lesson. Shortly after I started doing this with her, she began to think that hitting and saying “no” was okay if she didn’t want someone to do something. Again, my own behavior modeled a lesson that I didn’t want my child to learn.
My examples may seem pretty minor and temporary, but studies show that children raised in a home with yelling often suffer from depression & anxiety later on in life. And it can actually make their behavior worse, change the way their brain develops, and even affect their physical health. To read more, you can click this link.
I was also raised to think spanking was a good thing (spare the rod, right?), but while it may temporarily stop a behavior, it’s the same as yelling. Instead of the things I mentioned above, spanking’s main negative side effect is increased aggression, especially later on. The effects can last a decade or even longer. And of course, this isn’t just true for parenting a strong-willed child, but for parenting in general.
My advice for anyone who resonates with what I’ve said and wants to link arms with me?
- Find a Gentle Parenting group on Facebook that you like. Read the resources they provide, look at other peoples’ posts, interact and ask questions.
- Study Bible verses. All those references to “the rod” actually carry a much different meaning than what many of us have been taught. Read verses on the gentleness we’re supposed to have toward others. I guess I had never thought about how important it was for those to also apply to my children.
- Take time for self-care. As mommas, we need to fill our own cup. You may have time (and child care) to leave the house and go do something you enjoy alone. You may have time for an uninterrupted bubble bath. Or you may only have time to do a quick devotional in the morning every day before your kids wake up. Whatever self-care looks like to you, take the time, and most importantly, include God in whatever time you take. Need some ideas? Check out my post on self-care (that’s also budget-friendly).
- Know that you have mercy and grace. Really allow yourself to feel it. As moms, we can be so incredibly hard on ourselves. Some nights when the kids go to bed, I just sit on the couch, mulling over the mistakes I made and what I could have done, should have done better. But the reality is, we’re going to make mistakes. Dwelling on them won’t make them go away. But God is so good to change our hearts (and in turn, our actions) when we allow Him to. If that desire is there in your heart, He’ll be faithful to do His part. Just keep renewing your mind to His truths. You’re loved, and you have been given the grace that empowers us to be the best version of ourselves. You’ll get there. Baby steps.
Stay strong, momma, and know you’re not alone!
Until next time,
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