Learning to tame the strong-willed child

My toddler has graduated from saying ‘NO!’ to more sophisticated forms of expression, mainly: ‘I want THIS!’ or ‘I don’t want this!’. (Note: ‘This’ can be replaced by the name of the object of affection/rejection, if known to her.)

I’m not sure if I’m particularly excited about this development. It sure makes for highly unpredictable days – we could go from ‘very good day’ to ‘very bad day’ in a matter of minutes. Although in all honesty, I think if we as parents were better prepared in handling the want-this-don’t-want-that-toddler, the swing would not be as great.

Some days, broccoli would be her worst enemy, other days, it would be carrot, or pumpkin, or some pea hidden in her rice somewhere. Some days, she would adore (and go nuts if she can’t find) her pink blanket, other days, she would crave her yellow one (oh, not the one with the baby motif). She used to love cold milk, now she turns whiny if it’s not served hot.

As one can tell, this dynamic toddler makes feeding and other everyday life matters as nerve-wrecking as navigating a minefield. It’s a battle of wits, and the parents are calling out for more strategic ammunition.

We’ve tried caning, which usually serves as a deterrent once the object is mentioned or sighted. But just yesterday, the two-and-a-quarter year old demanded for a tissue (to play with, not to use), and I said if you want to waste the tissue, you have to get one whack of the cane. She put my words to the test, and received one whack on the palm. After a few seconds, she asked for another whack. I granted her her wish, this time making sure the pain was felt. She kept silent.

This rather strange, one-off episode tells me she’s gearing up for a stronger challenge, as if she’s declaring: ‘I’m not afraid.’

She’s open to reasoning if she’s in an agreeable mood. It also helps if the bait or the promise is attractive, such as being able to do some painting, or have a tasty treat.

All in all, we’ve been trying to make her fussiness and tantrums as much as a non-event as possible, unless she really is in the mood for trouble. I remember some good advice I read awhile ago: Pick your battles.

I’ve started to read Dr. James Dobson’s The New Strong-willed Child afresh, hoping to gain some new insights and tips. (I’ve also just ordered his book The New Dare to Discipline by the way.)

Effective discipline requires a balance of love and control (or love with boundaries)

Effective discipline requires a balance of love and control (or love with boundaries)

Dobson advocates the establishing of parental authority from an early age, and drawing consistent boundaries of right/wrong, with appropriate levels of punishment meted out for each undesirable behaviour, the worst of which are outright acts of defiance.

I think it’s time to try out some of his suggested strategies and tactics for this age group, such as time-out. (Have tried a variation of this a couple of times, esp. at mealtimes when she fusses over her food and refuses to eat. I would just pick her up silently and set her on the sofa, and ignore her for awhile. Usually she would come round to asking for food by herself.)

Lest I’ve made my toddler out to be some kind of monster, I must add that on good days, she’s usually a cheerful, playful, fun-loving sweetheart. We love her to the max.

But because we do, we can’t let her wreak havoc with her wilful ways. As the good book says:”...the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Proverbs 13)

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  1. cly says

    thanks dear for writing this. already sometimes i feel a tad overwhelmed when the very inquisitive boy wants to be involved in almost everything i do in the house and when he doesn’t get his way, he starts a fuss. we are trying our best to reason with him but honestly, its so difficult to become angry at times!! 🙁 i suppose its more challenging now cuz he can’t speak yet and my guessing makes matters worse for the rather impatient boy. i’m thankful that i can learn from you! patience and gentleness are virtues that are a lifetime training for me, which i think you excel by a great deal! 🙂

    • says

      Hey cly, it does gets overwhelming doesn’t it. Sometimes to keep in control, I hv to walk away and take a few deep breaths by myself. Many times I fail miserably tho…but each time is a valuable lesson. The thing abt toddlerhood is that the kid changes so fast, that by the time u have one stage figured out and under control, they enter into a different phase!!! Ack, but its a real mix of joys and tears. Btw I’m under training for those same virtues… seems like since the kid came into the picture, whatever patience I had at first has flown out the window. LOL

  2. Cha says

    Hey June, I feel encouraged by your sharing. Sometimes I worry a lot about not feeling in control of the situation you know? Like when i go berserk and start yelling ? Woah your daughter can go for the cane? She is one tough cookie! Usually I just do the naughty corner and make her stand on the dining chair. She will come to her senses quickly. If Lukas (baby bro) throws a tantrum he also goes to the naughty corner…pretty hilariously cos he cant stand for long! I don’t know… It’s usually coming if they’re tired…my recipe is always sleep…more of it and earlier… what are your thoughts?

    • says

      Hi char, I know what u mean by berserk…had some of those myself. (And boy…the guilt trip after.) Sounds like the naughty corner is working for u! I don’t like to use the cane, but we try to get calm b4 using it (so we don’t hurt her unknowingly). And I’m also trying not to use my bare hands, as the difference should be clear: hands are meant for loving, etc. I guess sometimes it’s a mix of personality, phases of development, and also how we organise their lives. Takes alot of wisdom and judgment.

      If i know it’s due to tiredness, I will usually give some leeway and get her into bed quickly, with as little fuss as possible. But if she’s being naughty/defiant outright, then I guess it’s a teach n discipline moment. I’m working out a list of ‘No-no’s to set clear rules on behaviour, so when it happens, we can be a tad more in control. 😛

  3. says

    I feel like I’ve learned so much from you (and from the comments) just from this one post. Thanks for sharing. Will definitely be back to read more. Hey, maybe Cha should start a blog too!

    p/s: Good luck with baby Javier! Not long to go now, hopefully.

    • says

      Hi soph! I’m glad you had some takeaways…parenting is one big learning journey, isn’t it? 🙂 Thanks for the well-wishes too…and YES, am praying for his delivery within a week! Doc says he’s gtg a tad too big to try for natural, so gotta be soon! 😛

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