I have been quiet lately. I struggle with how much to share sometimes. While I am an open book, my family shouldn’t have to constantly fear what might end up in cyberspace. They are always supportive and encouraging, but now that my children are getting older, I also want to protect their privacy. My daughter gave me permission to share the story in today’s post.
That said, I think it’s so important to be real and transparent. I have found that being open about my struggles has brought comfort to people who think they’re alone in theirs. It has shown me how so many of us have the same insecurities.
I want to share with you today about my strong willed child. Why? Because I feel like we had a breakthrough with her recently that has been so encouraging. I don’t look at the “strong willed” label as a bad thing – or something to “fix.”
It’s part of who she is – and it’s our job as her parents, to figure out how she ticks, to teach her how to process and handle emotions. We do the same for our other daughter, who is very different – our approach just changes.
With all the upheaval that has occurred around here in the past 6 months, routine has gone by the wayside, stress levels have increased, and now – getting back into a more normal scheudule – we have had our work cut out for us.
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Our daughter senses the stress but has a difficult time talking about her feelings. It’s not that she can’t, she just doesn’t want to. Furthermore, while she loves affirmation, she even has a difficult time receiving verbal praise. She will change the subject. As a result, just like many adults who keep things bottled inside, the feelings always come out, but they can be misdirected and intense.
After really digging deep into the subject with my husband, we decided as a team to really try to help her express her feelings in benign situations so that when she’s feeling passionate about something, she might be able to pull from what we’ve been working on.
We’ve always talked about feelings but this specific approach has yielded relatively quick and encouraging results.
WE TALKED ABOUT IT FIRST
I went into the bedroom of my 7 year old and told her I wanted to talk to her. I asked her to set the timer on her iPod for 3 minutes. When the timer went off we would stop talking about it. Even though we were finished talking well before 3 minutes were up, she checked that timer at least 4 times. She was uncomfortable.
- I asked her why she doesn’t like to talk about her feelings.
- I told her that it’s important to talk about our feelings to help others understand why we might be upset.
- I also told her that feelings always come out, but if we don’t talk about them while we are feeling them, they can end up coming out in ways that make us regret our actions.
- We agreed that we would start practicing.
WE PRACTICED IN RELAXED CONVERSATIONS
We asked how she felt about little things.
…an activity at school
…what’s for dinner
…when her sister wouldn’t play with her
She knew what we were doing. She rolled her eyes and muttered single word responses under her breath.
We looked her in the eye.
We validated her. “Yes, I think I might feel that way too.”
I’m realizing how important it is for her to see that we are truly listening and engaged.
WE TALK ABOUT OUR OWN FEELINGS
For some in our house *ahem* it’s easier to talk about our feelings. Some of us *ahem* express our feelings a little too well. But, in all seriousness, we have made a point to clearly let her know how we are feeling about certain things.
“When you do X, it makes me feel Y. Did you realize that?”
“Today X happened and I was so angry!”
“I was so happy today because…”
WE INCREASED QUALITY TIME
This has been huge. In order to create a safe environment for a child (or anyone) to express him or herself, there needs to be quality and quantity time. Especially in a case where it’s difficult to talk about uncomfortable emotions, time is important as the child may need to work up the courage to get the words out.
My husband an I have each committed to a daily chunk of time spent with her. Coloring, games, pretend play, reading.
WE SEE CHANGE
Within a week, we began to see positive changes in our child. When she starts to get worked up about something, we try to give her words reflecting how she might be feeling without becoming emotional about it ourselves (which can be difficult when we are frustrated too!).
While our girl is definitely loving towards us (i.e. she likes hugs, spending time together, caring for anyone who is sick, helping around the house etc.) verbally explaining her feelings in words doesn’t come easily to her.
Twice in the first two weeks of implementing this strategy, my little girl came up to me and told me, unsolicited, “I love you so much, mom.” She freely gives hugs and says I love you in response to it being said to her, but she rarely initiates it. I didn’t even realize this until she began to say it without being preempted. My heart needed to hear it!
When we ask her how she feels about something, she might still roll her eyes, but it’s getting easier for her to respond – even if it’s a one word answer and a quick change of subject.
We are seeing that when she’s angry or upset about something – she calms down quickly and is trying to use her words to explain herself.
In short, she is feeling better on the inside and because she understands why, she’s encouraged to keep trying.
WE RECOGNIZE THAT PARENTING MEANS UPS, DOWNS, & ADJUSTMENTS
Seeing these changes has been so encouraging, but we know that all kids grow and change. Different parenting techniques are needed at different stages. We will surely have to adjust.
Growing up is a roller coaster – there are ups and downs – and that’s okay.
We as grownups are human too! We’re going to get frustrated and make mistakes sometimes, and so will our kids.
As I’ve said before parenting is more about changing our own behavior before we can change the behavior of our children.
I want to make one final comment before I leave you today.
Some people are more inclined to use their words than others. That is NOT a bad thing. In fact, sometimes I think the world would be a much better place if some of us kept our thoughts to ourselves sometimes, no?
Our desire is to help our children to verbalize their feelings because, when done appropriately, it will hopefully help them in the future, to express themselves in a healthy way. We pray that it will keep them from bottling things inside to their own detriment. If they want to keep feelings to themselves sometimes, that’s okay – but I believe it’s important to know how to share what you’re feeling when necessary – and when it IS necessary, I want our kids to have the tools to do so.
My favorite book on strong willed kids is:
Linking up with Creative Kids.