I have a very special place in my heart for spirited, strong-willed children with fierce determination and independent souls. Children who are bold, loud, and not afraid to ask why... test boundaries... and challenge the status quo. Children who question "why?"... "why not?"... and "how can I find another way to still do it my way?" The risk-takers, innovators, problem-solvers, and explorers. You will recognize them as those who yell, scream, and dramatically throw themselves on the floor in a passionate plea to get what they want. Life is hard when you are a little person and not in charge!
You might have heard them described as strong-willed, stubborn, defiant, or even difficult. However, these spirited, independent souls are not defying you to make your life miserable or to disrespect your authority as a parent; rather, their curiosity and enthusiasm are insatiable. By constantly challenging, questioning, and testing, they gather information, process, and learn about their world.
How do I know? Because growing up, I knew the line in the sand had been crossed when I heard my mother shriek, "MINERVA JANE!"
Yes, I was that kid. Fortunately for me, my parents had a sense of humor (thus the nickname) and a lot of patience! If they told me not to do something, I usually found a way to do it anyway (in super sneaky, investigative fashion) with the sole purpose of discovering what was SO bad about it in the first place, they told me not to do it... strategic planner and calculated risk-taker.
When I was 4 years old, I would call my Grandpa Frosty after church and ask what they were doing Sunday afternoon. Same thing every Sunday. After he told me and invited me to go along, I would say, "Okay, I'll call you back." I worked through my contacts, exploring my options... deal maker, negotiator, event planner, and resourceful opportunist.
Okay, so maybe my parents spent a lot of time praying for my soul and teaching me about manners and consequences. They also nurtured my creativity and curiosity. They believed in me and constantly told me that I could learn to do anything... BE anything. They challenged me to put those precocious qualities to good use. They kept me very busy. They embraced my spirit and enjoyed the ride.
What my parents may not have realized as they screamed for "Minerva Jane," was that by nurturing my spirit, they were also helping me become more resilient. Being "a little stubborn", strong-willed and resilient has served me exceedingly well in difficult times and personal crisis.
Parenting a strong-willed child is exhausting. Ask my Mom. When you feel frustrated, irritated, disrespected, out of control, weary, like you're failing, misunderstood, exhausted, and at your breaking point... keep in mind that your strong-willed child is feeling frustrated, irritated, disrespected, out of control, weary, like they are failing, misunderstood, exhausted, and at their breaking point.
Strong-willed children speak a different language. The key is to dig deeper until you find the underlying message and a balance between maintaining your sanity... oops, I mean boundaries... while trying to see the world through their determined eyes.
Your child is experiencing overwhelming emotions, a need to feel powerful, and a deep desire for connection, approval, and acceptance. At a very early age, I remember thinking, "will you still love me even if I ____?" Every behavior carries a message. The bigger the behavior, the bigger the message.
Lean in with empathy, compassion, and by validating your child. Children will continue to communicate until they feel heard. Try using reflective language that tells their side of the story, such as: "You are really angry. You wish you could ____ . This is hard for you."
Love, guide and nurture them as you weather the storm together. Someday, these spirited children will set the world on fire as future leaders, investigators, negotiators, politicians, artists, inventors... the possibilities are endless!
P.S. Pictured above is my brother, Cody (2 yrs), and me (4 yrs). Notice the "attempting to look innocent but guilty" faces and the obvious post-disaster condition of my shirt.
It was, in fact, me. ~ Love, Minerva Jane