November 16, 2007

Strategies for the Strong-Willed: They Work!

I recently spoke for Celebrate Kids at an early childhood conference. In one seminar, I presented strategies developed by Dr. Kathy to help diffuse confrontations with strong-willed children.

Neither of my daughters is particularly strong-willed. (Of course, each surely has her moments!) But God prepared me well to address the topic at the conference when, beginning a year ago, I started caring for little “Jill” in my small family daycare.

Jill is only 14 months old now. So I’m careful to avoid sticking her with a label that carries negative connotations. Plus, she’s a joy whom I love so I want to resist the temptation to think of her negatively – even when her actions frustrate me. But, whether or not Jill is actually strong-willed, she has already exhibited a spectrum of “opinionated” behaviors.

Before she turned one, much of that revolved around her refusal to sleep soundly, either for her parents or me. Now, though her sleeping habits have vastly improved, she exerts her will in other ways. The week before my speaking engagement, she decided – without warning and for no reason we could decipher – that she loathed high chairs. Whenever she even saw one, she screamed at the top of her lungs. And, like a strong-willed child, she persisted until she was removed from it.

I’d learned that strong-willed children desperately want power, control, and victory. It seemed that Jill wanted to control where she ate, but – as a one-year old – she clearly needed a high chair. So I couldn’t allow her to sit elsewhere. Or could I? I remembered that Kathy suggests giving some power, control, or victory. And so I thought to move her to a booster chair; she would still be strapped in and have a tray, but it was a different seat. Would that work?

Not instantly. She still yelled through a few meals in the new chair. But I tried another strategy: involving the child when working to solve the problem. Simply put, I talked to Jill as if she could talk back to me. Which sounds silly when dealing with an infant. And, in fact, she mostly hollered back at first. But speaking to her in a calm voice, as if she could reply, calmed my nerves. And eventually placated her. After a couple of days using this and other strategies, Jill accepted the booster seat. By the following week, she even tolerated again the hated high chair!

At the conference, someone questioned if the strategies worked with very young children. Had I not experienced it myself, I might have been skeptical as well. True, I made some modifications to account for Jill’s age. But Kathy’s strategies worked for me. I believe they’ll work for you, too.


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