Our oldest son just turned 10, and as we ended his 9th year, it struck me that we are over halfway there….
-Halfway to him leaving our nest
-Halfway to him going to college
-Halfway until my heart breaks
-Halfway until he turns into a man
He was the easiest baby ever – he slept through the night at 6 weeks, he nursed every 3 hours, he hardly ever cried. But as he grew, so did his will, and we realized that we had been blessed with a very strong-willed child. At age 2 we began to see the evidence of his “future leadership skills,” but at age 3, they came raging out of him, unbridled like a wild horse that refused to be tamed. I cried a lot those third and fourth years. I had no idea what I was doing. We butted heads all day long. I loved him, but there were days I didn’t like him.
We went through health scares with him, two surgeries, a severe speech delay and subsequent speech therapy. Fourteen ear infections in one year. He took an entire year to potty train. I was at my wit’s end with the power struggles and discipline.
Yet now I see a boy who is well-adjusted. He is confident and secure. He is smart. He is on target for growth and learning, despite all of our fears when he was younger. He is a great big brother. He is a natural leader and coach.
Oh, that I could have seen into the future back then and just known that it would all be okay. We still have a long ways to go – we are only half-way through. Yet I have learned some lessons in these past 10 years that I wanted to share – not only to encourage those of you with younger ones who might be strong-willed, but also to let you know that it really will all be okay.
Here are 10 things I’ve learned in 10 years of parenting (specifically to a strong-willed child):
1) Pick your battles. If you find yourself fighting with your little one all day long, it’s okay to let some things slide – mainly for your own sanity. They want to wear two different socks and you battle over this every single day? Let it go, my friend. Sing the song. Let the child wear the two different socks. We had a daily issue with my son’s wardrobe. He was not diagnosed with sensory issues, but he sure had them. He would scream and wail and cry if he had to wear jeans or collared shirts. It was like we were physically torturing him. Oh, how dramatic those days were. Now we let him pretty much wear whatever he wants. I’ve found other pants that aren’t jeans that he will wear. I was so rigid- so focused on him obeying that I was missing what he really needed. He was trying to tell me something and I didn’t listen. Once I listened and accepted that he was not going to bend, things got easier. We learned to pick our battles and not focus on every little thing.
2) Follow your instinct. Sometimes mama’s know more than the doctor does, because we know our child. While the doctor told me everything was fine with my little one, I knew that it wasn’t. I pushed and pushed for a second opinion and for testing, and my hunch was right. Learn to tell the difference between instinct and fear. Sometimes our fear is stronger than our instinct, and we get the two confused. However, you will always know your child better than anyone else. If you feel leery about a certain person being around him/her, listen to that instinct. If you feel unsafe about a certain environment for your child, listen to that instinct. As you grow as a mother, your instinct will become clearer.
3) Accept your child as he is. For so long I tried to make my child’s behavior change, to form him into something he wasn’t. For instance, there were times we wanted to make our child have fun. We forced him to go to Disneyland and go on some rides that absolutely terrified him, because we wanted to have fun and he wasn’t going to stop us. But it was a disaster. We learned that he is very introverted, that he doesn’t like to be around big crowds. We learned that we can’t schedule things all day long because it wipes him out and makes him very upset. We learned that he wanted to have control over his environment, so new places scared him. Once we accepted that this was the way he was made, and learned to appreciate it instead of resist it, things went a lot easier for us.
4) Learn your child’s personality type. Our son came out of the womb very scheduled, quiet, and orderly. He is a thinker. Friends used to nickname him “the engineer” because he was so serious and would study everyone and everything. I knew from reading through personality books that he was born a melancholy/choleric. This has helped us tremendously in knowing what he needs, and it has helped bring peace into our home. Even as a child he has a strong need for control in his environment – so we try to give him a sense of control instead of fighting with him on every little thing. Our other son came out of the womb LOUD. His scream was so ear-piercing that the nurses were concerned. He is fun and loves to be the center of attention.
5) Learn your child’s love language. Our older son rarely needs physical affection; he prefers to be alone and not hugged all day long. Our younger son never wants to leave our sides – he has been a cuddler since birth. If I would have used the Babywise method on our younger son, he would be miserable today. He wanted to be touched and held all day long – because his love language is physical touch. The attachment parenting method was what he needed, and we weren’t used to that because our older son was so independent. We have learned that Micah’s way of giving and receiving love is through gift giving (even a small note in his lunch), as well as encouraging words. Our younger son thrives on quality time, so he gets very sad if we don’t spend one-on-one time with him every day. You can read more about this and learn your child’s love language by reading this book.
6) Learn what affects your child. So much of the first 10 years of a child’s life is really just learning who he or she is. You’d think we’d automatically know, since they came from our own body, but they really are these independent little people with personalities of their own! For years our older child would have radical mood swings- he would get extremely agitated and angry, and we couldn’t figure out what it was. A friend shared with me about the effects of food dyes on her children, and I realized that my son was triggered after eating certain foods. We took out all Red Dye 40 from his diet and it helped tremendously. I’ve seen other children who are bouncing off the walls, and their parents throw their hands up in exasperation, not realizing that the child’s morning breakfast has over 70 grams of sugar in it (from cereal, milk, pancakes and orange juice). Or they’ve just eaten an entire package of candy with Red Dye 40 in it as a main ingredient. Those things really do affect children’s little bodies. We’ve worked hard to keep our kid’s sugar intake and dye intake low – not because we are better than other parents- but because we know first-hand the chaos it is going to bring to our family if we don’t do that. They still have treats and go to birthday parties and we make exceptions for those times – but we know what we will face afterwards and prepare for it.
7) Boys need to be outside. I’m sure that girls do, too, but I only have boys and have heard this as well from other mothers of boys. When boys are inside too long, they get aggressive, angry, and out of control. Being outside where they can dig, use up their energy, jump, play, and get dirty, releases all of that adrenaline they have built up inside of their little bodies. You don’t need to give them a ton to do out there – let them use their imagination and come up with ideas on their own. Be okay with them getting dirty, and they will have the time of their lives out there.
8) Don’t compare. Try not to make your child act like their sibling or like your friend’s child. This goes back to the third point “Accept your child as he is.” It’s hard not to compare our child’s behavior with other kids. We want some kind of standard to know that we are on track, that our child is normal, that they are pleasant to be around – and so we start to compare. When we do this, we don’t allow them to be who they were created to be. They also can start to feel like we will only love them when they are behaving.
9) Be willing to change. I remember driving with a group of moms, telling them how I was disciplining my older son and nothing was working. They all gently told me that because it was clear that this type of discipline wasn’t working, I had to change it. Instead of trying to make my son change, I was the one who had to change. I couldn’t use the same type of discipline on both of my boys, because they were different children and it did. not. work. They helped me come up with some creative things to try, and it changed everything. Once I took the emphasis on trying to change my child, and put it on myself – we were both happier. Sometimes we get so focused on changing our children – yet God is trying to change us instead.
10) Don’t sweat the small stuff. Your child won’t potty train? Let it go – try it again in a few weeks. Your child won’t sleep through the night? They’ll get it. Keep trying. Your kid won’t eat his veggies (or anything you cook)? Yep. Been there. This too shall pass. My older son still will only eat carrots, broccoli and tomatoes. No other veggies – so, we load him up on those ones. I remember being worried about every little thing when my boys were small – and you know what? All of those things have passed. Sometimes I have to look back and just laugh at all the things I was afraid of.
I have a lot more to learn, but things would have been a lot easier in my first decade of parenting if I had known these things. If you are a parent, what are you learning? What encouragement would you give to someone who has children younger than yours?