I love my grandkids. They are full of spunk however and a very determined lot. The 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds (of which there are FIVE) often prefer to pout, argue and scream rather than comply. The school age ones are also prone to arguing and insisting on getting their way.
In all this, I see the promise of leadership, of SISU (Finnish for grit or dogged determination), and of godly purpose in their lives.
Raising up determined kids is challenging and exhausting at times.
Nothing is more aggravating to a parent than incessant fit throwing or arguing by a child. How you choose to respond, however, will either reinforce or serve to extinguish this type of behavior. I admit that sometimes I am tempted to react back, to threaten, and to demand obedience. Yet deep inside, I know this does not work. Efforts to gain compliance by intense, forceful words, or actions may temporarily stop the behavior because the child fears the repercussions. It may even help the parent feel they are in control. But who is really winning in the midst of these power struggles? And what type of behavior are we actually fostering?
Arguing back with a frustrated, angry child actually prevents authentic communication from occurring by keeping the issue at the surface reactionary level. Such a cycle breaks down connection between the parent and child and puts distance between their hearts. Plus, we wind up modeling the very behavior we want them to stop.
So how can we help our children grow hearts that desire to respect and obey those in authority over them?
What can we do rather than grow angry ourselves? This is the focus of the next few mini blogs.
First, we must learn to not react to their reactions.
Fit throwing and arguing often occur without thinking on their part. They are reacting to feelings of frustration within. Once they are in the middle of the fit, it can be very difficult to change the course. If your child is one that digs in and won’t quit (like a few of my grandkids), consider the fact that when they get into this emotional quagmire, some actually lack the skills to respond differently AND they lack the skills to stop. Still others struggle to admit they are at fault so rather than back down, they grow resolved to prove their point. (See story below.) Regardless of the reason, the key is to not reinforce this behavior or model it in return – by demanding and arguing and pushing hard to get your way.
With intense children, what we give intense attention to (whether the attention is positive or negative) is likely to grow.
Instead, push the pause button. Pray. Think. Give yourself a time out. Don’t fall into the trap of doing what they are doing. A calm response, or no response in the heat of the moment, will go a long way in helping your child grow healthy skills of communication at those times when they are likely to turn to fit throwing and arguing. As tempting as it is to react back, it’s best to refrain because nothing good comes out of growing volatile over volatility. No learning. No communicating. Just an adult and child bouncing off each other and keeping each other stuck in this negative cycle.
So give yourself and your child a chance to calm down. Once emotions get out of the way, both sides will be more likely to respond in ways that grow positive growth.
Joey, now nine, used to immediately fall into a raging fit when corrected with his school work. The idea that he had made a mistake simply lit a fuse within him. It was an instantaneous response, and once he fell into this fit there was no pulling him out. I learned, however, to just turn my attention to a compliant child saying “let me know when you are ready to listen to correction and work calmly with me.” At first, Joey would run off screaming something like “I am never going to do school work with you again.” I would calmly tell him to throw his fit anywhere he wanted but not around me or the others. He would storm off, but soon a quiet boy would reenter our work area and sit down. “I am ready Oma,” he would reply. At that point, I would say nothing. No lecture. I would simply let him know I was glad he chose to do the right thing and we would begin anew. While Joey needed to learn a better response, he also needed to know that there was a way back in once he chose a better way. In the midst of the fit, while he knew he was wrong, the skills to deal with the frustration he was feeling over being corrected were not in place yet. Today, it’s far easier to correct Joey. He is learning to respond well to correction. The desire to be right is still within him (like it is in all of us) but he is gaining the self control to manage it wisely.