Living Stones Academy

Educating by atmosphere, discipline, and life

The Strong Willed Girl: a year ago

on October 10, 2015

“The baby screams himself into fits for a forbidden plaything, and the mother says, ‘He has such a strong will.’ The little fellow of three stands roaring in the street, and will neither go hither nor thither with his nurse, because ‘he has such a strong will.’ He will rule the sports of the nursery, will monopolise his sisters’ playthings, all because of this ‘strong will.’ Now we come to a divergence of opinion: on the one hand, the parents decide that, whatever the consequence, the child’s will is not to be broken, so all his vagaries must go unchecked; on the other, the decision is, that the child’s will must be broken at all hazards, and the poor little being is subjected to a dreary round of punishment and repression. But, all the time, nobody perceives that it is the mere want of will that is the matter with the child” (Vol. 1, p. 320).

I wrote the following a year ago and apparently forgot about it. It never was finished or published. But I’ve had some breakthroughs recently with said child, who has not changed since I wrote this. I plan to blog about those experiences, in the hopes of both reminding myself (because I admit to having forgotten this) and possibly encouraging someone else.

One day in 2014 . . . .

I grew up in the Dobson era of the strong-willed child. I tried to read his book once, even. I completely agree with Ms. Mason’s assessment that it is “want of will”, not a “strong will”, that is a child’s problem when that child has this disposition. Not that this disposition indicates a strong will. Of course that does not mean that the complacent child has a strong will, but only that his or her need for more will power comes in other forms. Perhaps in the complacency. But I digress.

It comes back to what we define as “the will”.

I have a child who would fall under the popular conception of strong-willed (for purpose of this post I will continue to use that term). I’ve seen the wrong way to parent/discipline a strong-willed child, and unfortunately I’ve also learned the wrong way to react and respond to such a child. Anger, frustration, loss of temper, and even taking it personally and using that feeling against the child are natural responses that I’m trying to rid myself of. I am happy to say that the personal feelings are hurt bit has only escaped my lips a couple times, in a weak beaten down moment, and that I’ve never used such things for manipulative purposes, only out of real weariness and loss of hope.

But I struggle daily with my daughter. She’ll fight everything, even the most mundane of instructions, like, “Drink your water, it will help your headache.” Yes, even the thing that will help her, if I said to do it, she won’t do it.

You may be thinking, “She must be what, 4 years old?” Oh no. She’s 6.

And she has fears that are so irrational, not even my 4yo succumbs to them. One of the last remaining such fears, held over from toddlerhood, is of public toilets. Unless she has a relationship with such a toilet–for instance, we have no troubles at the church we are attending any more, and she’ll even go all alone (gasp)–she won’t use it. We were on a nature walk a few weeks ago. The bathroom at this facility was not only very nice and up to date (unusual for a public park), but it had just been cleaned, as in, within minutes of us arriving. But at the beginning of our walk, she said she needed to use the bathroom, and then wouldn’t go. We cut the hike short because, part way in, she was crying about how badly she had to go. We turned back, went into the bathroom . . .and she still refused. We left to go to a nearby park, she ate lunch, played for an hour, then as we were leaving was in tears and holding her stomach because she had to go SO BADLY. So I led her into the bathroom, and this one was nowhere near as nice as the one we had left. . . .and she still refused. She demanded we go home, but home was further away than the shopping center I was planning to go to. So, mean mom that I am, I told her that, and said she’ll just have to use the one at the shopping center. We went, with her crying the entire way about how badly it hurt, we arrived, she practically hopped with both legs together because of the pressure, and she STILL almost refused when we went into the bathroom at Panerra Bread! But at that point it was do-or-die so she did it.

I use that story to illustrate how her fears override any desire to take care of herself, and also to show that, on the one hand, she really does have a strong will. Not only did she not use the toilets she was afraid of, but she never peed her pants either. She’s 6. That’s impressive. My oldest son can’t hold it that long. I’ve witnessed a very strong independent streak in her, in which she’ll do what she has to for herself if necessary. So on that side, I’m grateful. But on the other side, I want to train out both the strong-will fighting mommy and daddy tendency, and the self-harm resulting from fears problem.

One thing we, my husband and I, have noticed, is that her fighting mom and dad problem lessens when she has one-on-one time with mommy, and when I change my responses to her. It’s really kind of funny, but how I react to her behavior bears strongly on whether that behavior continues. Knowing that and acting on it are very hard for me (I have weak willpower myself), but the days when I do, things are much smoother. Still, there isn’t an improvement (so she’s not growing in will power), and some days when all of my other 4 children are pulling and pushing me I just am not equipped for the uphill battle.

The other day it came to a head. I can’t even recount it was all so much, and such a blur now, but by the time my husband came home I had nothing left. I had put something away in her room and could barely take one step because the floor was strewn thing toys and clothes, and all I thought was, “It’s not worth it”, meaning the battle of trying to get her to clean it (“But it’s too hard”, “But I have a headache”, “But I need you to supervise me”). I had told her several times to get her things from the table and it still wasn’t done. Those are the only details that stand out, because I was just over. While I washed some dishes, the kids played outside, and my husband sat on the other side of the sink and listened to me vent. I pointed out that all the working, fighting, training was such an uphill battle, and we weren’t getting any near the top. Punishments don’t work, taking things away doesn’t work–she feigns disinterest or shrugs it off–even natural consequences don’t work (as my  toilet story illustrates, her own pain means nothing to her if she can get her way). On the flip side, I don’t want to throw in the towel and allow her to dictate things. Letting her get away with murder is a disservice to herself and her siblings (as I know from experience), especially if the only reason is, “Mommy doesn’t want to deal with it.” Considering that’s my job description, that’s the worst excuse in the world. For the record, my husband is a great support. But he’s in the Navy, and will be leaving again soon for several months. Right now he’s in and out of port frequently. He leaves before anyone gets up and is often exhausted when he gets home (and has fibromyalgia, so yes, his exhaustion is an excuse that is valid).

Back to the problem . . . .One of the things that had happened several times that day was, she had come into the kitchen and said she wanted to help me cook. Each time it was something she could not do–I’m not about to let her slice potatoes with a santoku knife! So I tried to give her an alternative: “It would be a big help if you could clear the table” or “It would be a big help if you could put away the dishes.” Each time it wasn’t what she wanted to do so she said poutingly, “I don’t want to do that, I think I’ll just go play,” and walked off. My husband mused on that, then suggested that what she was really saying was she wanted to work alongside me. Again, we had both noticed that how mommy responds to her and works with her does a lot for her own responses. So he said, “Maybe find a way for her to do something else that is still spending time with mommy.” I thought about that then suggested, “Maybe if I said, clear the table and we’ll talk about your day while you do that?” He said, “Yeah, that might work.” But I thought even more. What if I validated her need verbally? What if I said, “I understand you want to be near mommy, and I love you too, but this is something you’re not ready for, so how about you clear the table and you can tell me about the dream you had last night?” My husband said, “It’s worth a shot.”

The opportunity came soon. Again, I’ve barely slept since then, so it’s a blur, and I don’t recall which situation happened first. I do know that she started to complain about a headache again, and I told her to drink her water, it would help. She ate some food, then asked for more, but I noticed that her water bottle was still full. I told her again, drink half your water and then I’ll give you more food. She drank, told me she’d done it, but when I looked only a few sips had been taken. The altercation went like this:

Me: Makenzie, that’s not half, drink half.
Her: But it IS half!
Me: No it’s–
Her: Yes, it is!
Her: (sullen silence)
Me: (taking a deep breath and calming down) Makenzie, I understand that you think you’ve drunk half of it, but that’s not, let me show you, ok?
I took a paper towel, made it the height of the water bottle, then folded it in half and held it up to the bottle. Her eyes got wide.
Her: Oh. (slurp, slurp, slurp) Is that half now?
Me: (holding the folded paper towel up) Not yet, almost, keep going.
Her: (slurp, slurp, slurp) Is it half NOW?
Me: YES! Good job, now you can have more food.

Back in 2015 . . . .

I remember this now, and I remember it worked for a couple days. But I let things slide. Then my husband deployed, then we had family visit, then things went from crazy to crazier. This beautiful brilliant comedic little girl is still stubborn and still willful (I now prefer that word). It makes not just school but every day a struggle. Recently, though, I found ways to get through to her. I hope to share those soon.


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