There have been times in my life that I have struggled with my strong-willed boy (I am intentionally leaving his name out) so much that I was a failure as a mother at many points in his life. There were times that were so stressful, it felt like there was nothing that could solve this problem.
I remember one time in particular, asking him to do clean his room, and then ending up in a battle over it (obviously, he didn’t want to do it). I insisted that he calm down, but it seemed like he would just get louder, and louder in response. Eventually, I ended up holding him in my lap, telling him I would hold him there with me till he calmed down… and that took a full hour and a half of him kicking and screaming in my arms until he fell asleep from exhaustion. It was pure torture…and there were many such incidents, and each one left me horribly depressed.
I remember reading website after website, and book after book, just desperately trying everything under the sun to make his behavior more manageable. Nothing I tried seemed to work. I finally started worrying that maybe there was no solution to our problem.
I began seeing over time that I have to remember that my son is different from the other children, and as such, he requires a different approach. He is a unique individual with a different “love language” than the other children, or even I have. Over time, I became more sensitive to what he personally responded to.
I also realized that before I can even TRY to deal with his behavior, I have to first deal with my own. Once I began the painful process of analyzing myself, I had to admit to myself that are many times that I became frustrated with his forceful and loud attitude, and would raise my voice to match his. There are many times that I would go on long lectures (rants) about this or that, and bore him to death instead of reaching his heart. There are many times that I would respond with sarcasm, or I would mimic him (hoping that if he heard how he sounded, he would stop). I was desperate, and I was not acting from a secure place where I was free to love him in the way a mother should. I just didn’t know what to do, or where to turn.
Then one day I listened to this pastor who was talking about how to win the heart of your rebellious child, and he mentioned certain things that really convicted my heart and made me really feel the effects of the errors in my attitude and behavior. After listening to him, praying to God, and repenting about the behavior I saw, I made a decision to treat my son differently from then on.
This is something that can’t happen overnight, at least not for me. I would try, and fail ,many times in the following years. And I still fail today! But I notice a dramatic improvement from then till now, and I no longer have those unbearable tantrums coming from him…instead, I have a son who actually offers to help me and seems to see me as a friend as well as a parent.
Here are 7 things that I have done that have changed things for us:
1.) I make he understands he is loved no matter what he does.
I started noticing that he took any criticism as a personal attack on his whole being. So he would lash out in defense of himself, believing I was against him instead of understanding that I was only critical of his behavior. Once I understood this, I empathized with him much more, and I felt so sorry for ever giving him this impression at all.
From then on, I made an effort to sit down and affirm how much I loved him, and hugging him and telling him that while I loved him, I hate to see that kind of behavior coming from him. I told him that I knew he was capable of much better, and I reminded him of all the kind things he has done.
2.) I started spending more one on one time with him.
I am still guilty of lacking in this area sometimes. However, I have noticed that since I began spending more quality time with just my son (which is sometimes difficult when you have 6 children to take care of), he has responded in such a positive way. He loves to feel special, and loves to have an arm around his shoulder as he draws a picture. He loves to know that I am watching and admiring his capabilities when he performs a stunt on his bicycle.
3.) I started praising him more often, sincerely.
I should mention that anything other than sincere praise is flattery, and your child will see right through it. So I have made a conscious effort to take the time to look for things that my son has done that are positive, and to bring them up and praise him enthusiastically for it. You should see his face beam when I do this. He thrives on that praise.
4.) I stop focusing on his failures and am not as critical of his faults.
Sadly, I had previously sort of felt a “me against him” mentality (due to the seemingly constant stress and struggle), and I remembered to myself that “love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs”. I decided that what I really needed to do was to forgive him of the past failures, and not keep bringing them up in my mind when something new would happen.
I heard Michelle Duggar (reality star of 19 Kids and Counting!) once say that you should praise a child 10 times more than you criticize. That is easier said than done, but I can see improvement over the years and it is becoming easier to do this the more I put it into practice.
5.) I try to understand things from his point of view.
Many times I have been guilty of forgetting what it’s like to be a child. When you are a parent and you have bigger responsibilities and bigger problems…sometimes it is easy to minimize a valid concern your child has. Many times I would be having what I felt was a HUGE problem…and my son would come to me with what I felt was a “little” problem….and I would dismiss him almost immediately. I feel so bad thinking back on that, because I know now that to him, those things are the BIG things. And when I was little, I would have wanted someone to understand my “little” problems and care about them! Now I try to listen more fully to what he is saying and respond in an understanding manner.
6.) When he is speaking to me, I try to always make good eye contact and listen.
This one is kind of hard for me…not just because I get distracted by all the things going on during the day, but also because my son has a habit of running all over the place while he talks to me. It’s kind of funny (I am trying to teach him to stand still so I can look into his eyes while he talks, but it takes practice! He’s just very active.) Even if he doesn’t, I simply listen well, and try to understand what he’s saying so that I can respond appropriately. This has benefited a lot, because he feels like I actually care about what he has to say. It’s a huge deal to him.
7.) I hug him every day, no matter how old he gets.
I think a lot of times, I used to believe he didn’t want to be hugged, if he was being grouchy or defensive, it just seemed like he would probably push me away if I tried…but I learned quickly that my boy CRAVES hugs. In fact, back when he was still having tantrums, I had read in one of Truett Cathy’s books (owner of Chick Fil A who passed away last month), It’s Better to Build Boys than to Mend Men, that he would take in foster children, and when they would act up, he would pick them up, sit with them in a rocking chair, and lovingly “rock the mean out of them”. That made such an impression on me that one day I tried it, while saying, “I love you”, “I love you” again and again. I was AMAZED at how well he responded to it. He smiled and leaned on me, just like a little child. It warmed my heart, and I think healed us both in many ways.
My son has changed and grown so much over the years, and I believe wholeheartedly that these things helped very much. Have you had to work with a strong-willed child? What are some techniques that helped you along the way? I would love to hear your opinions.