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The strong-willed child: 11 ways to turn power struggles into cooperation

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Have a strong-willed child? You're lucky! Strong willed children can be a challenge when they're young, but if sensitively parented, they become terrific teens and young adults. Self-motivated and inner-directed, they go after what they want and are almost impervious to peer pressure. As long as parents resist the impulse to “break their will," strong-willed kids often become leaders.

What exactly is a strong-willed child?

Some parents call them “difficult" or “stubborn," but we could also see strong-willed kids as people of integrity who aren't easily swayed from their own viewpoints.

Strong-willed kids are spirited and courageous. They want to learn things for themselves rather than accepting what others say, so they test the limits over and over. They want desperately to be “in charge" of themselves, and will sometimes put their desire to “be right" above everything else.

When their heart is set on something, their brains seem to have a hard time switching gears. Strong-willed kids have big, passionate feelings and live at full throttle.

Often, strong-willed kids are prone to power-struggles with their parents. However, it takes two to have a power struggle. You don't have to attend every argument to which you're invited! If you can take a deep breath when your buttons get pushed, and remind yourself that you can let your child save face and still get what you want, you can learn to sidestep those power struggles. (Don't let your four year old make you act like a four year old yourself!)

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No one likes being told what to do, but strong-willed kids find it unbearable.

Parents can avoid power struggles by helping the child feel understood even as the parent sets limits. Try empathizing, giving choices and understanding that respect goes both ways. Looking for win/win solutions rather than just laying down the law keeps strong-willed children from becoming explosive and teaches them essential skills of negotiation and compromise.

Strong-willed kids aren't just being difficult.

They feel their integrity is compromised if they're forced to submit to another person's will. If they're allowed to choose, they love to cooperate. If this bothers you because you think obedience is an important quality, I'd ask you to reconsider. Of course you want to raise a responsible, considerate, cooperative child who does the right thing, even when it's hard. But that doesn't imply obedience. That implies doing the right thing because you want to.

Morality is doing what's right, no matter what you're told. Obedience is doing what you're told, no matter what's right.
H.L. Mencken

So of course you want your child to do what you say. But not because he's obedient, meaning that he always does what someone bigger tells him to do. No, you want him to do what you say because he trusts YOU, because he's learned that even though you can't always say yes to what he wants, you have his best interests at heart. You want to raise a child who has self-discipline, takes responsibility and is considerate—and most important, has the discernment to figure out who to trust and when to be influenced by someone else.

Breaking a child's will leaves him open to the influence of others who often will not serve his highest interests. What's more, it's a betrayal of the spiritual contract we make as parents.

That said, strong-willed kids can be a handful—high energy, challenging, persistent. How do we protect those fabulous qualities and encourage their cooperation?

Here are 11 tips for peaceful parenting your strong-willed, spirited child.

1. Remember that strong-willed kids are experiential learners.

That means they have to see for themselves if the stove is hot. So unless you're worried about serious injury, it's more effective to let them learn through experience, instead of trying to control them. And you can expect your strong-willed child to test your limits repeatedly—that's how he learns. Once you know that, it's easier to stay calm, which avoids wear and tear on your relationship—and your nerves.

2. Your strong-willed child wants mastery more than anything.

Let her take charge of as many of her own activities as possible. Don't nag at her to brush her teeth—ask "What else do you need to do before we leave?" If she looks blank, tick off the short list—"Every morning we eat, brush teeth, use the toilet, and pack the backpack. I saw you pack your backpack, that's terrific! Now, what do you still need to do before we leave?"

Kids who feel more independent and in charge of themselves will have less need to be oppositional. Not to mention, they take responsibility early.

3. Give your strong-willed child choices.

If you give orders, he will almost certainly bristle. If you offer a choice, he feels like the master of his own destiny. Of course, only offer choices you can live with and don't let yourself get resentful by handing away your power. If going to the store is non-negotiable and he wants to keep playing, an appropriate choice is—

"Do you want to leave now or in 10 minutes? Okay, 10 minutes with no fuss? Let's shake on it....And since it could be hard to stop playing in ten minutes, how can I help you then?"

4. Give her authority over her own body.

"I hear that you don't want to wear your jacket today. I think it's cold and I am definitely wearing a jacket. Of course, you are in charge of your own body, as long as you stay safe and healthy, so you get to decide whether to wear a jacket. But I'm afraid that you will be cold once we are outside, and I won't want to come back to the house. How about I put your jacket in the backpack, and then we'll have it if you change your mind?"

She's not going to get pneumonia, unless you push her into it by acting like you've won if she asks for the jacket. And once she won't lose face by wearing her jacket, she'll be begging for it once she gets cold. It's just hard for her to imagine feeling cold when she's so warm right now in the house, and a jacket seems like such a hassle. She's sure she's right—her own body is telling her soso naturally she resists you. You don't want to undermine that self-confidence, just teach her that there's no shame in letting new information change her mind.

5. Avoid power struggles by using routines and rules.

That way, you aren't the bad guy bossing them around, it's just that "The rule is we use the potty after every meal and snack," or "The schedule is that lights-out is at 8 p.m. If you hurry, we'll have time for two books," or "In our house, we finish homework before screen time."

6. Don't push him into opposing you.

Force always creates "push-back"—with humans of all ages. If you take a hard and fast position, you can easily push your child into defying you, just to prove a point. You'll know when it's a power struggle and you're invested in winning. Just stop, take a breath, and remind yourself that winning a battle with your child always sets you up to lose what's most important—the relationship.

When in doubt say— "Ok, you can decide this for yourself."

If he can't, then say what part of it he can decide, or find another way for him to meet his need for autonomy without compromising his health or safety.

7. Side-step power struggles by letting your child save face.

You don't have to prove you're right. You can, and should, set reasonable expectations and enforce them. But under no circumstances should you try to break your child's will or force him to acquiesce to your views. He has to do what you want, but he's allowed to have his own opinions and feelings about it.

8. Listen to her.

You, as the adult, might reasonably presume you know best. But your strong-willed child has a strong will partly as a result of her integrity. She has a viewpoint that is making her hold fast to her position, and she is trying to protect something that seems important to her. Only by listening calmly to her and reflecting her words will you come to understand what's making her oppose you.

A non-judgmental—"I hear that you don't want to take a bath. Can you tell me more about why?"

You might elicit the information (as I did with my three year old Alice) that she's afraid she'll go down the drain, like Alice in the song. It may not seem like a good reason to you, but she has a reason. And you won't find it out if you get into a clash and order her into the tub.

9. See it from his point of view.

For instance, he may be angry because you promised to wash his superman cape and then forgot. To you, he is being stubborn. To him, he is justifiably upset, and you are being hypocritical, because he is not allowed to break his promises to you, but you broke yours to him.

How do you clear this up and move on? You apologize sincerely for breaking your promise, you reassure him that you try very hard to keep your promises, and you go, together, to wash the cape. You might even teach him how to wash his own clothes so you're not in this position in the future and he's empowered. Just consider how would you want to be treated, and treat him accordingly.

10. Discipline through the relationship, never through punishment.

Kids don't learn when they're in the middle of a fight. Like all of us, that's when adrenaline is pumping and learning shuts off. Kids behave because they want to please us. The more you fight with and punish your child, the more you undermine her desire to please you.

If she's upset, help her express her hurt, fear or disappointment, so they evaporate. Then she'll be ready to listen to you when you remind her that in your house, everyone speaks kindly to each other. (Of course, you have to model that. Your child won't always do what you say, but she will always, eventually, do what you do.)

11. Offer him respect and empathy.

Most strong-willed children are fighting for respect. If you offer it to them, they don't need to fight to protect their position. And, like the rest of us, it helps a lot if they feel understood. If you see his point of view and think he's wrong—for instance, he wants to wear the superman cape to church and you think that's inappropriateyou can still offer him empathy and meet him part way while you set the limit.

"You love this cape and wish you could wear it, don't you? But when we go to services we dress up to show respect, so we can't wear the cape. I know you'll miss wearing it. How about we take it with us so you can wear it on our way home?"

Does this sound like Permissive Parenting? It isn't. You set limits. But you set them with understanding of your child's perspective, which makes her more cooperative.


By Dr. Laura Markham, founder of AhaParenting.com and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life.

This article was originally published on AhaParenting.com

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If there's one thing you learn as a new mama, it's that routine is your friend. Routine keeps your world spinning, even when you're trucking along on less than four hours of sleep. Routine fends off tantrums by making sure bellies are always full and errands aren't run when everyone's patience is wearing thin. And routine means naps are taken when they're supposed to, helping everyone get through the day with needed breaks.

The only problem? Life doesn't always go perfectly with the routine. When my daughter was born, I realized quickly that, while her naps were the key to a successful (and nearly tear-free!) day, living my life according to her nap schedule wasn't always possible. There were groceries to fetch, dry cleaning to pick up, and―if I wanted to maintain any kind of social life―lunch dates with friends to enjoy.

Which is why the Ergobaby Metro Compact City Stroller was such a life-saver. While I loved that it was just 14 pounds (perfect for hoisting up the stairs to the subway or in the park) and folds down small enough to fit in an airplane overhead compartment (you know, when I'm brave enough to travel again!), the real genius of this pint-sized powerhouse is that it doesn't skimp on comfort.

Nearly every surface your baby touches is padded with plush cushions to provide side and lumbar support to everything from their sweet head to their tiny tush―it has 40% more padding than other compact strollers. When nap time rolls around, I could simply switch the seat to its reclined position with an adjustable leg rest to create an instant cozy nest for my little one.

There's even a large UV 50 sun canopy to throw a little shade on those sleepy eyes. And my baby wasn't the only one benefiting from the comfortable design― the Metro is the only stroller certified "back healthy" by the AGR of Germany, meaning mamas get a much-needed break too.

I also appreciate how the Metro fits comfortably into my life. The sleek profile fits through narrow store aisles as easily as it slides up to a table when I'm able to meet a pal for brunch. Plus, the spring suspension means the tires absorb any bumps along our way―helping baby stay asleep no matter where life takes us. When it's time to take my daughter out, it folds easily with one hand and has an ergonomic carry handle to travel anywhere we want to go.

Life will probably never be as predictable as I'd like, but at least with our Metro stroller, I know my child will be cradled with care no matter what crosses our path.

This article is sponsored by Ergobaby. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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The phrase "women can have it all" has always left a sour taste in my mouth. Sure, our options for fulfillment extend beyond the home. But between wage gaps, the astronomical cost of childcare, student loans and ever-rising living costs coupled with shrinking wages, can we have it all?

Some women know their calling is at home with their babies and they make it work. They budget like it's an Olympic sport and find resourceful ways to save money. Many women are single mothers and are the sole earners in their homes. Every household has different needs and we absolutely deserve to choose whatever best fits our lifestyle.

Whatever that fit may be, it never encompasses "all."

I knew from a young age that I loved babies and wanted a family of my own, but that vision always included me working. Maybe it was the 90's TV boom of Ally McBeal and Detective Olivia Benson but I knew I wanted a career. I wanted a purpose that contributed to the world outside of my home. I knew I wanted a degree or two, maybe three. The fact that I made up my mind so early and never wavered, made me sure that "mom guilt" was something that other women felt; women who maybe felt the pull to be home but other circumstances were in their way.

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Mom guilt wouldn't hit me, I'd be immune, I thought.

Fast forward to the first month I went back to work from maternity leave. I ugly cried on my way into the office so frequently that I kept makeup in my car so I could fix it before going inside.

I'd dive headfirst into work until I had to pause to pump. Work, pump, work, pump, shove in some lunch at my desk at some point and sprint out the door to get my baby. I was productive but distracted. When I was at work, I wanted to be home. When I was home, I thought about the possible mistakes I had made at work.

I was in a job that was full of stress, last minute late nights, terrible pay and no appreciation. But from the standpoint of working and having a family, I had both. I had it "all."

Some days, I felt as though I was maybe just ungrateful for all the responsibilities I had to juggle. I blamed my attitude.

Facing my unhappiness at work and the baggage I brought home to my daughter and husband weighed on me. Then, six months postpartum, I lost my dad. I packed up that baby and flew home to say goodbye.

At the visitation, his colleagues shared many memorable stories, but the ones that kept coming up were his dedication to his wife and six children. They were memories of my sisters and I hanging out in his office, coloring while our mom worked. In fact, one of my masterpieces, a mosaic Great Dane, still hangs in my dad's old office window on Court Street because the owner of the building watched us grow up and didn't have the heart to take it down when he retired.

Dad was an attorney who nearly always made it home by 5:30, something unheard of in the world of owning your own practice. He didn't live to work; he worked to live.

I realized that when I leave this world, I don't want anyone to tell my children stories about how hard I worked. I wanted them to tell my children stories about how much I loved them and that they always came first. I had to make a change.

The right doors opened in the next month and I eagerly took on an entire career change (not something I necessarily recommend with a 7-month-old, but we made it work). I closed the doors of childhood ambitions that didn't match with the type of mother I wanted to be. It wasn't sad, it was liberating.

My new job included work from home days and a team of women, mostly moms, who value hard work and success but prioritize family and their roles as mothers. That attitude starts at the top of the company and trickles down. It was a breath of fresh air after seven months of feeling like I was suffocating.

Despite these life changes, I still don't have it "all." What I do have is realistic expectations for what I can accomplish in a day.

I have a house that looks like it's been ransacked Monday through Friday. I have a sink full of dishes.

I have a car littered with smashed cheddar frogs and peanut butter smears. I have a bedroom containing endless laundry baskets of clean clothes that get folded and put away maybe once a month.

I have a supportive partner whom I madly love and helps me rage clean all of the above when we can't take it anymore. I have a happy, healthy daughter who couldn't care less about dishes, laundry and dog hairballs.

I have a job that contributes to the betterment of humanity and a team who makes office days a joy.

I have women in my ear sharing their disdain for me working out of the home, but I also have women in my ear championing me as a mother, wife, homemaker, and career woman.

Maybe the answer to finding that peace was leaving a toxic job. Or maybe it was found in losing my dad and having my daughter in the same six months. Perhaps it was the priority shift that followed those changes. It could have been extending the same grace to myself that I so willingly give to those I love. Whatever it was, I'm grateful to have found it so I can enjoy living in our good old days, today. I don't have it all, but I really love everything I have.

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It's been more than a year since Khloé Kardashian welcomed her daughter True Thompson into the world, and like a lot of new moms, Khloé didn't just learn how to to be a mom this year, she also learned how to co-parent with someone who is no longer her partner. According to the Pew Research Center, co-parenting and the likelihood that a child will spend part of their childhood living with just one parent is on the rise.

There was a ton of media attention on Khloé's relationship with True's father Tristan Thompson in her early days of motherhood, and in a new interview on the podcast "Divorce Sucks!," Khloé explained that co-parenting with someone you have a complicated relationship with isn't always easy, but when she looks at True she knows it's worth it.

"For me, Tristan and I broke up not too long ago so it's really raw," Khloé tells divorce attorney Laura Wasser on the podcast. She explains that even though it does "suck" at times, she's committed to having a good relationship with her ex because she doesn't want True to pick up on any negative energy, even at her young age.

That's why she invited Tristan to True's recent first birthday bash, even though she knew True wouldn't remember that party. "I know she's going to want to look back at all of her childhood memories like we all do," Khloé explained. "I know her dad is a great person, and I know how much he loves her and cares about her, so I want him to be there."

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We totally get why being around Tristan is hard for Khloé, but it sounds like she's approaching co-parenting with a positive attitude that will benefit True in the long run. Studies have found that shared parenting is good for kids and that former couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse" are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Khloé says her relationship with Tristan right now is "civilized," and hopefully it can get even better with time. As Suzanne Hayes noted in her six guiding principles for a co-parenting relationship, there's no magic bullet for moving past the painful feelings that come when a relationship ends and into a healthy co-parenting relationship, but treating your ex with respect and (non-romantic) love is a good place to start. Hayes describes it as "human-to-human, parent-to-parent, we-share-amazing-children-and-always-will love."

It's a great place to start, and it sounds like Khloé has already figured that out.

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Kim Kardashian West welcomed her fourth child into the world. The expectancy and arrival of this boy (her second child from surrogacy) has garnered much attention.

In a surrogacy pregnancy, a woman carries a pregnancy for another family and then after giving birth she relinquishes her rights of the child.

On her website, Kim wrote that she had medical complications with her previous pregnancy leading her to this decision. “I have always been really honest about my struggles with pregnancy. Preeclampsia and placenta accreta are high-risk conditions, so when I wanted to have a third baby, doctors said that it wasn't safe for my—or the baby's—health to carry on my own."

While the experience was challenging for her, “The connection with our baby came instantly and it's as if she was with us the whole time. Having a gestational carrier was so special for us and she made our dreams of expanding our family come true. We are so excited to finally welcome home our baby girl."

A Snapchat video hinted that Kim may have planned to breastfeed her third child. What she chooses to do is of course none of our business. But is has raised the very interesting question, “Wait, can you breastfeed when you use a surrogate?"

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The answer is yes, you sure can! (And you can when you adopt a baby, too!)

When a women is pregnant, she begins a process called lactogenesis in which her body prepares itself to start making milk. This usually starts around the twenty week mark of pregnancy (half way through). Then, when the baby is born, the second phase of lactogenesis occurs, and milk actually starts to fill the breasts.

All of this occurs in response to hormones. When women do not carry a pregnancy, but wish to breastfeed, they can induce lactation, where they replicate the same hormonal process that happens during pregnancy.

A woman who wants to induce lactation can work with a doctor or midwife, and start taking the hormones estrogen and progesterone (which grow breast tissue)—often in the form of birth control pills—along with a medication called domperidone (which increases milk production).

Several weeks before the baby will be born, the woman stops taking the birth control pill but continues to take the domperidone to simulate the hormonal changes that would happen in a pregnancy. She'll also start pumping multiple times per day, and will likely add herbal supplements, like fenugreek and blessed thistle.

Women can also try to induce lactation without the hormones, by using pumping and herbs, it may be harder but some women feel more comfortable with that route.

Inducing lactation takes a lot of dedication—but then again, so does everything related to be a mama. It's a super personal decision, and not right for everyone.

The important thing to remember is that we need to support women and mothers through their entire journey, no matter what decisions they make about themselves and their families—whether Kardashian or the rest of us.

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