Strong Willed Child

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I have so many issues I don't even know where to begin. I am the proud mother of a beautiful 2 year old daughter. She is the light of my life but boy are we having troubles. She is very independent and strong-willed. Also very LOUD!!! Screaming at the top of her lungs is her answer to anything she doesn't like. I wish I could say that these problems are new but she has been doing them since I can remember. I am not the best at dealing with constant tantrums. I have read your books and have tried to apply them but Jordyn just ignores me. You can't ask her any questions because she never answers.

My other problem is her obvious favoritism of her father. He is great with her and I am so happy that they are close but just once I would like her to be sad I am leaving or want me when she is hurt or tired. I truly feel so inadequate and that she just doesn't like me much. don't give in to try to gain points but I would love to know or feel that she still loves me. Even my friends and family feel sorry for me. My husband and I have a very rocky relationship but I am afraid if I leave it will give her one more reason to hate me later. Please help me deal with the screaming. Ignoring it doesn't help. I will be honest I am ready to scream and yell right back. Also is it normal for her to favorite one parent so completely and for so long.

Also I live in the Seattle/Tacoma area and was curious when you might have another workshop or if you know of any parenting classes that use your theories?


Dear Emily,

My name is Jody McVittie. I am a parent educator in Everett, train parent educators in the Seattle area and help answer questions for the PD website. I am also a family physician. I can tell that you are feeling overwhelmed. Having a two year old around the house can be really intense. As the parent of three very "strong willed" children (now 17, 14 and 12) I can remember how that felt. There were times that were loud, times that were frustrating, times when my parenting skills felt totally inadequate...and times when I still feel overwhelmed. One of the things that helped me get a bit of perspective was realizing (from reading a book I think) that the very things that made my kids so challenging at times were also skills that would be tremendous assets as adults. It just made it hard to be their parent. (Makes it hard!). For example, I used to think of my son as really stubborn and then gradually I realized that it seemed like he was stubborn when he had another person (me) to be really stubborn against. I realized that really he was just persistent in his beliefs and in what he wanted (often more persistent than I was). He wore me down when I pushed back. I used to think that pushing back or giving in were the only two choices. It was either him or me. I have gradually learned that when we look for other choices that respect both of us, things go a lot more smoothly. I remember one Christmas morning when he was about 7 and he got a bag of old pennies and some books to put them in. That was it. That was all he wanted to do. No more presents, no more nothing until EVERY penny was closely examined. My first reaction was to feel kind of upset....and then I realized that he was having a great time. That was what Christmas morning was supposed to be for him (and for all of us). We paused all of our gift giving, he looked at pennies and the rest of us got ready for breakfast or played with toys. We had a nice break, ate breakfast together and then enjoyed the rest of the festivities. I learned a lot that morning. It didn't have to be about right or wrong...we could just find a solution that worked for all of us. It was respectful to each of us and the situation. It sounds a little like you and Jordyn have developed a pattern of behavior that is repeating itself and maybe getting worse (from your point of view anyway). Here are some suggestions that have worked for other parents of strong willed (and loud) two year olds. First recognize that much of her behavior is very developmentally normal. Two year olds can be very loud and they go in cycles about which parent they prefer to be with. Don't take that part personally (even if you know a lot of 2 year olds that don't behave like Jordyn). Be careful about your assumptions that because she doesn't get upset when you leave or prefers Daddy that she "doesn't love you." She clearly has a great deal of faith that you will come back, and that your are a constant in her life. That is a good thing.

Next think about the concept of mutual respect in a slightly different way than you may have before. I like to think of mutual respect as respecting yourself and the situation. You cannot change what Jordyn does, but you can change what you do and it is HIGHLY likely that she will change her behavior too (but not right away). Lets look at two of the problems that you mentioned: tantrums and noise Tantrums are normal for two year olds. It is normal for tantrums to bug parents too, but you can minimize that. Here are some things that might help.

First, respect the situation. That means that it helps if you understand that tantrums are normal. Two year olds are not very good at organizing their feelings and expressing themselves well. They get overwhelmed. Tantrums are most likely when children are out of their usual routine (skipped nap, visitors, etc) hungry or tired. Tantrums are usually self long as adults don't interfere. Tantrums are prolonged when, in the perception of the child, they are effective in getting either special service, attention or power. It helps if parents realize that tantrums are just one way of expressing feelings, and to allow their children to have their feelings without feeling the need to punish or rescue.

A respectful way of treating a child with a tantrum is to gently let them know that you love them, and when they are done with the noise you'll be glad to give them a hug and some love....and then move a few paces away. (A hug at the end of a tantrum is not a reward, it is a way to re- establish a connection and belonging that they couldn't find in the first place) Do this wherever you are. (Yes, kids can pick some pretty embarrassing places to have tantrums. I remember a couple in the milk section of the grocery store, and another in front of Nordstroms at the mall during Christmas shopping. Other parents have been there too...they know you are not a meanie parent...and they have empathy. Besides, most of them have never seen you before and never will again.)

Second: Respect yourself. In the environment of a tantrum this is pretty challenging. Do what you need to do to remain calm, undisturbed and really understand that the tantrum is not about you. It is your daughter's stuff (though she will do everything she can to make you feel bad about it). When she starts to calm down it works well to ask if she is ready for the hug yet or if she wants to cry a little more first. Stay firm and stay kind at the same time. The message of love will come through loud and strong.

Noise: Respect the situation (look for understanding and respect those involved): All kids make noise. Some more than others. Kids are very creative with their behaviors and can find behaviors that push your buttons....and then keep using them. It isn't that they want to bother or hurt you, it is that they have a continual need to belong and when they can keep you busy with them they feel that connection. Support Jordyn in getting belonging with you in other ways. Spend time with her doing what she enjoys, on her schedule for some time every day (you probably already do this...just keep doing it).

Respect yourself. If you don't like the loud noise (screaming), kindly and firmly let Jordyn know that and then have the tongue in your shoe match the tongue in your mouth. "I am going to go to another room until the volume in here is back to an inside noise level" (and then leave the room). Occasionally when my kids were younger I would need to take a time out in the bathroom just to restore myself. I kept comic books in the bathroom and locked the door. Sometimes the child would sit outside and cry for awhile (which made it take longer for me to feel better). When I felt better (in 5 minutes or so) I would open the door and invite them in for a hug saying "Whew! I feel better now that I took a little time out, would you like a hug?" I have quite a few memories of sitting on the bathroom floor with a soggy, warm child in my lap as we got back on track together. Walking away from screaming is hard and is not an instant cure. It does work over time. One final word on screaming. Sometimes children who don't hear well do scream. They also have delayed language development and behavior that seems very frustrated (because communication is so difficult). Your note implies that she "never" listens. You don't talk about her language ability except that you say she is "pre - verbal." A two year old should not be "pre - verbal." Most two year olds (especially first born girls) have a pretty amazing vocabulary and should be stringing words together in short sentences (3-4 words) by 18 - 20 months of age. If you are at all concerned that she doesn't hear well, please visit your family doctor or pediatrician. . Lastly. It sounds like Jordyn is not the only challenge in your life. What do you do to take care of yourself? Lots of moms lose track of taking care of themselves because of all of their other responsibilities. Unfortunately when we don't take care of ourselves, we have less energy to do what we need to do...and then we feel worse...and it is a vicious cycle. Please take care of yourself. If that means getting some exercise, some babysitting time from a neighbor, or some counseling for you and your husband, it is really important and can leave you feeling much better about one of your most treasured relationships, the one with your daughter.

You obviously love your daughter and are asking great questions. I wish you the very best,

Jody McVittie


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