Life With a Spirited Child: Parenting Tactics for the Trait of Persistence
Last fall I started a series called Life With a Spirited Child. I received tons of great feedback from these posts, but as the holidays approached, the series fell by the wayside. I’ve missed this series, and I’ve got lots more to say (and even MORE to learn myself!), so let’s get back to it!!
In case you’re new around here, or missed the first posts, here they are. I’d definitely encourage you to go back and check them out!
- Life With a Spirited Child-Series Intro
- The Characteristics
- Parenting Tactics for the Trait of Intensity
image from Jeff Sandquist via Flickr Creative Commons
Today, we’ll discuss some parenting tactics for the trait of PERSISTENCE, using the book Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka as the framework for the discussion. (If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend it!)
“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will and the other comes from a strong won’t”–Howard Ward Beecher
Spirited children often have a one track mind. Once they have an idea, they are extremely fixated on it. It’s hard to get them to change their minds. They demand more than other kids demand and they never give up. They make it very hard to be ignored or to be distracted.
The trait of persistence is a big factor in most power struggles. So what are we, as parents to do with these persistent kids?
1. Say Yes
Here’s something that I’m still working on. I tend to automatically say “NO!” to The Littlest Apple, which, as you guessed, leads to lots of battles. Many of which are unnecessary! It’s time to look for ways to say yes more often! A few days ago, The Littlest Apple wanted to move his sand out of his sand table and put it in his wheelbarrow. In the past when he’s asked this, I said no. But why? Simply because I didn’t want to deal with the mess. This time I said yes, and The Littlest Apple worked busily on shoveling and moving sand and carting it around in his wheelbarrow for 30 minutes. Yes, there was mess (especially when he dumped it all over our back patio), but it was absolutely worth say YES!
Spirited children tend to have a hard time unlocking and moving away from their position (okay, sometimes I do too…but I have to remember that I’m the parent here), so they may need some extra encouragement in coming up with alternative solutions. Help them brainstorm a list of alternative solutions. I’ve also read about this tactic in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and it makes a lot of sense. You are empowering your kids to be problem solvers and working as a team to come up with other solutions.
For instance, if your daughter is having trouble staying in her bed and night and keeps coming in to yours, have her brainstorm some solutions that will make both of you happy. Other solutions might include waking you up, asking for a drink, or buying her a new lamp so that she could read a book by herself if she has trouble sleeping. That last option looks like a real winner doesn’t it? Mommy and Daddy get to sleep uninterrupted and your daughter gets to do something she enjoys in her room quietly! Win win!
3. How to Deal with Persistence in Babies and Toddlers
Obviously, you won’t be able to make your home into an early childhood classroom, but you can look around and create a child-friendly environment (aka “yes environment”) that fosters peace. Is your home a good place for little kids or a battlefield for young, energetic explorers? Are there buttons and wires begging to be pulled? Are children’s toys readily accessible? The more places in your home that are child-safe and manageable, the less you’ll fight with your persistent child about staying out of things.
image from D Sharon Pruitt @ Flickr Creative Commons
4. Persistent Parents
Do you lock in as adamantly and strongly as your kids do? Maybe you are a persistent parent! I am!! And sometimes as parents, we have to be the ones to unlock first. Time to be the adult! So the next time you are arguing with your child about something that doesn’t matter all that much, know when to drop it or remind your child that you can work together to come up with a different solution.
5. Say No
I know I mentioned saying “yes” earlier, but there is also a time and a place to say “No.” Spirited children (and all children) NEED confident parents who will be persistent and adamant about the basic rules and values that are most important to them. Parents who will say “I will not let you…” “The rule is…” and “I’m going to keep you safe.”
6. Clarify Your Rules
Keep it simple. Don’t make too many rules and consistently enforce your rules.
Ask yourself three basic questions: 1) Is the behavior safe? 2) Is it respectful of self and others? 3) Is it respectful of the environment?
Write down your rules. Are they clear and concise?
Use a firm voice. Not a harsh or loud voice, but a voice of conviction that states clearly, “The rule is…. and I will help you follow the rule.”
But what if they don’t stop? The Littlest Apple rarely stops the first time I ask him. Our spirited kids, intense and persistent, don’t like to be stopped and have a hard time stopping. Our insistence that they stop has to be as strong as their protests! Our message has to be clear: “I am not afraid of your tantrums. I am your parent and I will help you stop. I am committed to this rule.” For a young child, this may mean picking them up and removing them. Offer a choice of alternate activities, and help them get started.
You can also help your child to stop inappropriate behavior by asking questions. If your child is swinging toys around in the air while friends are over for a playdate, you might ask: “What might happen if you were swinging that when a friend walked near you?”
image from Todd Baker @ Flickr Creative Commons
Spirited children need to know that if they don’t stop, if they don’t follow the rule, there will be a consequence. Consequences should be natural or logical. Kids can (and should) help come up with the consequences, but this is something you do when everyone is calm. Reminding your child of the consequences is sometimes enough to stop inapropriate behavior. Consequences are just one tool, but they shouldn’t be the first.
Easier said than done, especially when you’re battling it out with an intense and persistent child! It can be hard to find that balance between overcontrolling and undercontrolling. For me, I probably lean more toward overcontrolling….but every once in a while, I catch myself being undercontrolling too (usually because I’m exhausted from being overcontrolling!!). Overcontrolling can make you feel like a drill sergeant and undercontrolling can make you resentful…like you have to walk on eggshells around your child. Balance is about finding that middle ground where both child and parent feel like they are being listened to and respected.
Do you have a story you’d like to share about your persistent child and how you handled it?
Next in the Life With A Spirited Child Series: Parenting Tactics for the Trait of Sensitivity.