Holidays are a pretty special time of year. They're special for so many reasons, and young children don't always understand those reasons. What they do understand is that things are quite out of the ordinary, and that can cause feelings of anxiousness, excitement, apprehension, and curiosity.
Setting our little ones up for a great holiday experience means that we need to prepare them for what to expect. Here are a few strategies to help prepare little ones for the holidays.
- Let them know the plan and what the day will look like. "Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day! We're going to wake up and eat a special breakfast, then we're going to go to Gigi and Pop's house. You'll get to play and I bet Pop is going to want to swing you. After lunch, we'll come home for quiet time, and then after supper, we'll go look at Christmas lights!
- Empathize ahead of time. "You're going to see some family members we don't see very often. It's okay if you don't know what to say or if you don't feel like talking to them right away."
- Remember to use visual clues, not time-bound clues throughout the day. "We're going to eat cheesecake and then we're going to pick up toys, say goodbye, and go home."
- Have a plan for common issues. "There might be food you're not used to eating. It will be on your plate, and you can eat what you want. Your body will tell you what you need."
- Invite them to help plan and collaborate. "We're going to have a family Zoom call after lunch! Where do you think we should sit for our call? What toys or books do you want to share with Auntie?"
- Make all plans equal. Have multiple plans for a peaceful, successful day, keep your expectations age-appropriate, be flexible, and know that if your little one winds up not getting a nap, it will still work out.
- Keep perspective. Holidays are wonderful but stressful! Cultivate compassion, empathy, and understanding for your little one, yourself, and your family.
What would you add to the list? How are you prepping your kiddos for the holidays this year?
We get it! Nurturing a strong-willed child requires so much love, peace, patience, kindness, endurance, and self-control. So basically we need the Holy Spirit to show up and bear fruit in our lives as we nurture and guide our strong-willed kiddos!
It helps to remember that with their strong will comes strong needs. Speaking as both a parent of a strong-willed child, and one who was a strong-willed child: one of their needs is for us to view their strength of will not as a fault, a sin, or a problem, but to view their strength of will as a sign of integrity, and recognize that they are people who aren't easily swayed by the opinions and wishes of others.
1. STRONG-WILLED CHILDREN HAVE AN EYE FOR EXCELLENCE AND DESIRE MASTERY (USUALLY LONG BEFORE THEY'RE ABLE TO MASTER SOMETHING!)
Let them take charge of as many of their own activities as possible. Nagging will likely frustrate them, so guide them with questions that allow them to think critically and problem-solve for themselves. Instead of "Put on your shoes!" ask,
"What else do you need to do before we leave?" If they're unsure, remind them of what happens before you leave, and allow them to mentally walk through the steps until they remember they need to put on shoes. When strong-willed kids feel more independent and in charge of themselves, they will have less need to be oppositional.
2. STRONG-WILLED CHILDREN LIKE TO MAKE DECISIONS FOR THEMSELVES.
Have you noticed that your strong-willed child often bristles when you give a directive? If so, try offering choices. This allows them to feel in control, which is often a core need of strong-willed children. You draw a wide boundary, and allow your child to make decisions for themselves within the boundary.
If going to the store is non-negotiable and your child isn't ready to leave the park, try something like: "Do you want to leave now or after you choose one more thing to do? Okay! What's your one more thing to do?"
When it's time to leave, they may still resist, so offer another choice: "Do you want to run to the car or walk like elephants?"
3. STRONG-WILLED CHILDREN NEED TO BE HEARD AND UNDERSTOOD.
Your strong-willed child has a viewpoint that is making them hold fast to their position, and they often are trying to protect something that is important to them. Only by listening calmly and reflecting on their words will you come to understand what's influencing their oppositional behavior. One of the best phrases we've found is "I'm confused, can you help me understand?"
You might use this within the context of your child not wanting to take a bath. "I hear you don't want to take a bath. I'm confused because usually, you feel so clean and snuggly after your bath. Can you help me understand why you don't want a bath tonight?"
The most important thing to remember is...
4. STRONG-WILLED CHILDREN NEED HELP LEARNING FLEXIBILITY
Strong-willed kids are really familiar with boundaries. They know how to draw and stick to boundaries - sometimes relentlessly! They need help learning flexibility and collaboration. Often, parents think they need to hold really firm and sometimes rigid boundaries so their strong-willed kids don't walk all over them. But in reality, they need us to model flexibilty, collaboration, and elasticity. Practically speaking, we as parents can teach them problem-solving skills, how to consider others and their needs, and finding solutions that work not only for them, but for others as well.
5. STRONG-WILLED CHILDREN NEED THEIR "WEAKNESSES" SEEN AS STRENGTHS UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Have you ever heard that our strengths and weaknesses are just two sides of the same coin? The idea is that strengths are the result of guiding weaknesses towards wisdom and maturity. This concept is important for our own growth, and it is especially important in reframing our mindset about our children. One of the biggest mindset shifts in parenting is to learn to see what we tend to view as negative characteristics as positive, and to see their weaknesses as strengths not yet developed. It is easy to see the negatives, isn't it? But what if we chose (over and over again) to see the incredible strengths in the more tricky personality traits?
- Bossy -> Assertive
- Stubborn -> Resolution
- Obsessive -> Conscientious
- Dramatic -> Imaginative
Are you parenting a strong-willed child? Share some of their strengths with us in the comments!
RESOURCES FOR PARENTING A STRONG-WILLED CHILD:
THE EXPLOSIVE CHILD BY DR. ROSS GREENE
Throughout this compassionate, insightful, and practical book, Dr. Greene provides a new conceptual framework for understanding the explosive child's difficulties, based on research in the neurosciences. He explains why traditional parenting and treatment often don’t work with these children, and he describes what to do instead. Instead of relying on rewarding and punishing, Dr. Greene’s Collaborative Problem Solving model promotes working with explosive children to solve the problems that precipitate explosive episodes, and teaching these kids the skills they lack.
COLLABORATION + COOPERATION WORKSHOP
Is it possible to cultivate a culture of collaboration and cooperation in your home without letting your child "walk all over you?" I have good news for you - the answer is an enthusiastic YES! This workshop will help you understand why collaboration with your child is a powerful gift that reduces power struggles, teach you how to teach problem-solving strategies to your child, and provides a roadmap for collaborative problem-solving.
Do you want to know something that can really set me off as a dad? My children being disrespectful, disobedient, or rude to my wife. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that my wife rarely needs me to defend her from the tiny people living with us. Mostly, she needs me to support her and help her during the stressful moments of parenting.
Let me tell you how that used to work out. So I’d be at work, working hard. Meanwhile, my wife is at home, tending to our little ones. Some days my wife loves being a work-at-home mom. This is not one of those days. My phone periodically buzzes with updates. She sounds increasingly frustrated and frazzled. She's trying hard not to take it out on the kids. I wish I could help her. Finally, my work day is done and I get to come home. By the time I get home, frankly, I'm a little bit peeved at my children. I walk in the door ready to lay down the law and defend my wife's honor.
I can't remember it ever working out particularly well. Mostly I just managed to add more chaos to an already chaotic day. Which meant I wasn't really the knight in shining armor I was hoping to be. Plus it wasn't doing my relationship with my children any favors. What kid is going to keep being excited that daddy is home when he often walks in door already frustrated with them?
So instead I changed what I do. I walk in the door and it's a clean slate. I try to spend a few minutes with each child, just re-connecting with them. My wife meanwhile, may have retreated behind a locked door to get a little alone time. Some days it's a re-set, and we have a wonderful evening together as a family. Some days it's a blip and we still have a hard day. But I've learned to father in the present, not trying to fix what's already in the past.
Looking for more? You might find these helpful:
Whenever we ask, "what is your number one parenting trigger?" there is always a resounding response that whining definitely ranks pretty high up there. Why is whining so triggering, anyway? And what can you do about it? Here are a few tips + sample scripts to help you transform your whining trigger.
WHY IS WHINING SO TRIGGERING?
- You were shamed, silenced, or ignored when you whined as a child, your subconscious brain may associate whining with neglect or emotional abuse.
- You perceive whining to be a character flaw, sin, or grab for attention, or misbehavior instead of the developmentally normal communication that it is.
- You genuinely desire for your child to be happy, and when they whine you feel insufficient as a parent because they clearly are not happy.
- You feel out of control when your child whines, and that causes you to feel anxious and stressed.
THREE STEPS TO TAKE TO TRANSFORM THE WHINING TRIGGER
- UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE - Research indicates that whining, just like crying, is simply a way for young children to communicate sadness, distress, or disappointment. Whining peaks between 2 and 4 years of age, just when a child is starting to become verbal, but has not yet acquired the vocabulary to express their feelings. Beyond the age of 4 whining is still a natural response to strong emotions and children may whine when they are overwhelmed, anxious, tired, hungry, or experiencing dysregulation.
- RECOGNIZE THAT YOUR FEELINGS ARE TIED TO THE PAST, NOT THE PRESENT - Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting describes a trigger as "anything you experience in the present moment that activates a feeling from the past." When you feel triggered by whining, it is an activation of a wound or internalized belief from your childhood. You can determine the specific feelings it brings up, but common ones are feeling disrespected, unheard, unimportant, etc. What happens when a child feels unimportant or disrespected? They feel angry and defensive. Chances
are, those are the same feelings you experience when you're triggered now.
- PLAN AND PRACTICE A NEW RESPONSE TO WHINING - Whatever your current reaction to
merely a program that your brain accesses automatically. You can write a new program for your brain, and with time and practice it will become your new response. The more you practice the new response, the more your brain will automatically access that new program when you hear whining. Try writing a few scripts to rehearse in the shower, the car, or as you fall asleep at night. And don't worry, your child will give you real-time practice opportunities as well!
PEACEMAKING RESPONSES TO WHINING
These responses are meant to guide you as you find the right response for your family. Sample scripts can be incredibly helpful, but remember that you and your child have a unique relationship with unique needs. If these don't fit your personality, or if your child doesn't respond well, switch it up and find what works for you!
"It sounds like you're having a tough time right now. What's up?"
It seems like you're feeling whiny and sad, is that right? Do you need to cuddle or have a good cry? I'm right here to hold you.
I can tell you really want to be heard. Your words are important to me and it is hard for me to understand you. Why don't you use your regular voice? It helps me understand you better.
It sounds like you're feeling upset or overwhelmed, is that right? I have enough calm to share with you. Let's take a break and talk about this in a bit.
Can you whisper that in my ear?
Struggling to get control of your own parenting triggers? Our upcoming LIVE workshop can help you understand what's going on beneath the surface, discover regulating strategies that will help you stay and return to calm, and help you create new, gracious responses to common struggles. Learn more here.
When we're triggered by our child's behavior, it is so easy for us to forget to remain present. Remaining present is important for us as parents because it allows us to fully feel, process, and learn from our parenting triggers. And it is important for our children because it reinforces connection and models healthy coping skills.
The thing is, sometimes (for me: oftentimes), we don't even recognize that we aren't fully present! When we start to become dysregulated, we may physically be with our child, but emotionally and mentally we're distant and unavilable
SIGNS YOU'RE NOT FULLY PRESENT
- You distract yourself or dissociate (example: scrolling your phone with no purpose)
- You think "My child will always act this way."
- You worry about how this will affect your later plans.
- You avoid your child when you're triggered (longer than it takes for you to reclaim your calm).
- You count down the minutes until nap time/Dad or Mom gets home/bedtime.
These signals are just that: signals. Counting down the minutes until nap time is a signal that you're struggling to remain present. Scrolling your phone is a signal that you're having a hard time being fully present. When you notice these signals, you don't have to beat yourself up! You can recognize the struggle and be patient and compassionate with yourself as you work to come back to this moment.
HOW TO STAY PRESENT WHEN YOU'RE TRIGGERED AS A PARENT
- Put your phone away and out of reach.
- Ask, "What does my child need in this moment?"
- Ask "What do I need in this moment?"
- Connect with your child in ways that will help calm you both.
- Breathe slowly, pausing to notice how your stomach, chest, and lungs feel as you breathe in and out
MANTRAS FOR STAYING PRESENT WHEN YOU'RE TRIGGERED
- "This is not an emergency, I am safe, my child is safe."
- "Peace begins with me."
- "I have everything I need for this moment."
- "Love is patient and kind. I am patient and kind with myself and my child."
- "Our love is stronger than our struggle."
- "Holy Spirit, you are welcome here."
- "A gentle answer turns away wrath."
right click (or tap and hold) any image to save as a lock screen or wallpaper on your phone
And here's why you want to do this hard work: because this moment is fleeting! While it may be hard, overwhelming, messy, and unpleasant, it's a part of YOUR story - don't miss it!
LOOKING FOR MORE HELP?
These books helped me cultivate peace and learn to regulate my own emotions when triggered by specific behaviors.