My mother tells me that, as a young child, I would sometimes become so fixated on getting my way that I would rant and rave to the point she would lock herself in the bathroom with the radio cranked up. I suspect there may be similar stories about my husband. Given our innate stubbornness as individuals, it’s really not surprising that our son exhibits more than a typical 3-year-old’s share of entrenchment in some (okay, most) situations. Yes, we have a strong-willed child.
Believe it or not, I’m grateful for this. Sometimes I say it through gritted teeth, but research indicates that strong-willed children, nurtured with understanding, can grow up to be quite remarkable adults, exhibiting many of the following strengths:
The intensity of my son’s desires often motivates him to solve problems using out-of-the-box thinking. At least this is what I tell myself as I discover him hanging out of the pantry cupboard, teetering on a footstool tower, trying to grapple onto the cookie box with a reaching tool he’s MacGyvered out of toys. (And yes, you would be correct to assume these are the same cookies he was most definitely not allowed to have until after he ate his still-untouched lunch.) One day I selfishly wouldn’t let him mop, because the walls really didn’t need it, so he dunked his toy mop in the dog’s water and proceeded to mop anyway. Proving yet again that there’s always a way to achieve your dreams.
This kid is going to have some impressive life skills. It’s all about the long game, right?
It’s amazing — admirable, in fact — how resolutely my son will hold onto an idea. Our neighbors got to share in my awe last week, hearing him repeatedly scream, “I don’t want to go for a walk!” in the driveway for 10 looong minutes while I wrangled our gigantic, excited puppy, who most certainly wanted (and needed) to go for a walk. Right now, a lot of his tenacity manifests most obviously in a general refusal to cooperate, but I have hope that this determination will translate into goal attainment and an ability to overcome obstacles.
“No! I want to do it myself!” is heard a lot around here. Never mind this whole “I do, we do, you do” pedagogical best-practice nonsense. He wants to do it and master it — yesterday — and suggesting otherwise is the linguistic equivalent of throwing down the gauntlet. This became messily obvious when I started inviting him to cook with me and he would literally wrestle spoons out of my hand.
A guiding hand on the grocery cart he is pushing elicits snarls — “NO! I’m pushing the cart!” — much to the bemusement and horror of other shoppers. (And yes, a tight-lipped close exchange about how we speak to people does immediately follow such outbursts.) Hopefully, this early blaze of self-sufficiency will manifest throughout his life in things such as cleaning his room and doing his laundry. Seriously though, as long as we manage to eke in some instruction amidst all the grabbing, this kid is going to have some impressive life skills. It’s all about the long game, right?
Peer pressure won’t make a dent in my son — at least not if he responds to it anything like he does to parental pressure. If he doesn’t believe he should do something, those heels are dug in deeper than his rubber boots in the muddy sand at the beach, as my disregarded “Stay out of the mud — you’ll get stuck!” floats away with the breeze. I’m confident that he will tell kids exactly where to go if they attempt to compromise his ideals and integrity.
Fake news? Not a problem. An answer of “just because” is never going to cut it for my son. He demands to know WHY, and who said so, and why again, and would Papa do it this way, etc., etc. And then he asks Grandma later, just to be sure. See? He’s already checking secondary sources — well on his way to responsible media literacy.
I admit it: My son actually has a lot of great ideas about how things can be done more efficiently. Once he has learned to differentiate between the intonation of a suggestion versus an order, this assertiveness will undoubtedly sweep him into leadership roles. Currently, however, he doesn’t usually get the response he’d like. There’s just something about finally, triumphantly wrangling the groceries, child and excited dog into the house, flopping down exhaustedly on the couch to catch a brief minute of respite, only to be told, “Mama, the floor is so dirty! You need to sweep. Now!” that kind of makes me want to scream and run away.
So, given our son’s intense opposition to direction, do we just let him do whatever the heck he wants? Absolutely not. It’s a constant balancing act of letting him feel in control yet still enforcing limits, letting him know that his ideas and feelings are valid, but that there are rules for how he expresses them (at least if he doesn’t want to become a social pariah).
Some of you might assume I have the patience of a saint. Nope. Not remotely. I bite my tongue… a lot. Sometimes I lose it, but I usually manage to rein in my temper pretty quickly. You see, despite all the daily stress and frustration, I wouldn’t try to “break” my son’s spirit for the world, not even if it meant he would do everything I asked exactly when I asked (although, wouldn’t that be wonderful, just for a day?). What a gift, to know your own mind and be your own person. How could I take that away from him?
Now, if we can get him to express this admirable independence in safe, socially constructive ways, we’ll all be winning.