Around 15 months of age, Peanut had mastered the not-so-beautiful art of whining. We knew her to have more of a “difficult” temperament by this time, but we still had not learned to fully engage in some of these issues as parents of a strong-willed child. When she turned two and we were still dealing with her dramatic tantrums and whining, we knew that we had to do something drastic about them. This time, I was determined to be more consistent and tackle these issues whole-heartedly, instead of half-heartedly. Our child must learn to obey our authority. She does not have the freedom to “run the show” in our family.
My mentor advised that the key factor in her learning to obey was developing her self-control. Some people laughed at me. Teaching a two-year-old how to have self-control? Good luck. I, however, had complete confidence that it can be done. I knew I couldn’t expect her to have the same level of self-control as an adult, but as a two-year-old, she can learn to not throw an angry fit over the smallest things.
Up to this point, when she would whine or throw a fit, I would put her in the crib. Well, remember I told you that she’s strong-willed. When I put her in the crib, she would just keep screaming or crying. When I felt that she had “calmed down enough,” I would go in and get her. We repeated this cycle more often than I care to count. I then realized – she was still making some sort of noises (to express her discontent) when I came in the room to pick her up. In her mind, she was winning every time.
One day, I decided that I was not going back to get her until she had calmed down and was actually quiet. I explained this to her. I began to use the words “self-control” as part of our regular vocabulary. The first time I put her in the crib for whining after making that decision, she cried for…well, for the purpose of this public blog, let’s just say for a very, very long time (if you want to know just how strong-willed she is, call me, and I will tell you how long it actually was). To our relief though, it was the only time she cried for that long.
That day, as I sat outside her bedroom hearing her cry, this was what I wrote on her journal:
While you were in there crying, I kept praying. Dad came home and we prayed together. We prayed for God to guide us with His wisdom and discernment. I also placed my hands on your bedroom door and prayed for you, that you will be able to learn the skill of self-control. At one point, you started crying out to me: “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” My heart broke into a thousand pieces. Having to discipline you breaks my heart and brings me to tears, but I am absolutely committed to helping you develop godly character and values. I want to do the “right” thing for you, rather than the “easy” thing. I desire for you to produce good fruit in your life, and be all that God created you to be.
Whew. So what happened after this long, drawn-out crying/screaming session? When her screams finally turned into whimpers of surrender, I went in and praised her like crazy. She was so happy for rest of the night. It was like a different type of countenance took over her face – total freedom and relief. It was as if she realized (the hard way) how much burden had been lifted off of her…when she finally learned to let go.
Whining did not disappear after that one night, but it significantly decreased. Next time we put her in the crib, the duration of her crying and screaming was a lot less. Within weeks (maybe days), as a two-year-old, she fully understood the meaning of the term “self-control” (and even used it on her baby sister when she was screaming).
That was almost three years ago. The road of raising her has not been easy. In fact, it’s been extremely, almost indescribably challenging. But it’s been so worth it. She still loses her temper at times, but most of the time, we’re able to help calm herself down simply by saying, “Peanut, show us self-control.” She stops. She’s calm. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but it’s HUGE for me as a parent of a child who has shown more persistence and aggression than I’ve experienced from anyone I’ve met.
I believe the main foundation I’ve been able to establish with her in the last five years is TRUST.
TRUST that I, as her mom, will not allow her to have her way, no matter how persistent she is. Deep inside, I believe strong-willed children are desperately looking to their authority figures to take on that challenge from them and provide security with love and discipline.
TRUST that my words come with weight. When mom says something, she means it. She can trust that I will follow through.
TRUST that I have her best interest at heart. When things are calm, I take every opportunity to let her know why I need her to obey and the benefits it will bring to her life.
TRUST that I love her, always, no matter what. After every discipline, I try to remember to squeeze her tight, tell her how much I love her, tell her she’s forgiven, and tell her how much I believe in her. I let her know: God has big, great plans for you! You are meant to be a leader.
I know that we’re still building on this foundation. But I see the fruit of it already. Just yesterday, she was sent to her room, and she began banging on the wall. I just opened the door once, and told her calmly, “Peanut, you will stay in your room longer, the more you bang against that wall.” Banging stopped. Why? Because she believes me, 100%, that she will stay in that room longer the more she bangs on that wall. With a strong-willed child, it takes a lot longer to build that trust. They just want to keep testing, and testing, and testing…hanging on to a tiny chance that this time, maybe she’ll give in? But as I mentioned earlier, they have love-hate battles within themselves. They want to win, but they don’t. They know they should not really be in control at this age. Yet they can’t help themselves from testing authority. My husband and I are determined to be that strong pillar for her, just as God is the strong pillar for us.
To the parents of strong-willed children: I share your pain, I feel your turmoil. It’s not easy…not even in the least. It’s a very special calling, and God has chosen you, not anyone else, but YOU to take on this huge task. My prayers are with you. I know that in less than two decades, we will see some powerful world-changers for God emerge out of our homes. Until then, let’s keep diving in, whole-heartedly.