Just the other morning, my strong-willed child grew upset about something. Honestly, I have no idea what, but I remember thinking, I need to nip this now or this will be the longest day ever. As she was huffing and puffing, she did what many kids do, she took it out on her mom—her safe space. 

“I’m SO mad at you!” she screamed as she stomped down the hallway and into her bedroom.

I grew upset, too. I felt my shoulders getting tighter and tighter by the second. But instead of matching anger with anger, I gave her some time in her room and took several deep breaths myself.

Related: Gentle parenting is hard—especially when everything is hard

Once I knew I could stay composed, I tiptoed to her bedroom and pushed her cracked door open. She sat on her floor crying softly. “Can we talk?” I asked.

“No!” she barked.

“Ok, well, I’m just going to sit here for a bit, is that okay with you?”

“No!” she shouted. Her shoulders softened. She paused. “Well, okay,” she said. “But I do not want to talk.”

“That’s fine,” I said. I sat silently for a few moments, watching her pretend to read a children’s book. Then I nudged a little closer. “Do you mind if I sing to you?”

“Welllll, okay,” she said.

So, I began to sing to her in my croaky voice. I chose the song I’d always sung to both my kids, “You are My Sunshine.” 

Slowly, my strong-willed child nuzzled into me and I cradled her like she was a toddler again. She started bawling. “I’m so sorry, Mommy,” she said. I felt her exhale all of her intense emotions onto me. I continued to hug her while we talked about how her feelings are always valid, but that it’s not okay to explode onto others that way.

You see, in raising strong-willed kids, I’ve found that there’s a fine line between getting walked on and teaching them that those big emotions are okay to have as long as they learn how to express them. And if I’m being honest, raising a strong-willed child can feel impossible some days.

Related: I’m trying so hard to ‘gentle parent’—but it’s not easy

No, I don’t want to break their spirit or get them to disregard their true beliefs, feelings, needs or wants. I just want them to be a little easier some days. Maybe once in a while, they’ll just eat what I give them without a fuss. Or perhaps they won’t want to wear a gymnastics leotard to school when a blizzard is sweeping through the state. I mean, is that too much to ask?

But there are also days when their fiery spirit feels like a blessing. You know, the days when they help a friend who they notice is sitting all alone or a student who was getting picked on. It’s moments like these I feel so honored to be their mother.

But I try to remember that I’m my kids’ safe space.

Yes, the tough days can feel long. And sometimes you feel like the worst parent in the world. However, the only thing I’ve found that works when raising a strong-willed kid is gentleness.

When I’m harsh with my strong-willed child, things escalate quickly. They go from her being upset to a tsunami whirling around the family room. My failure to remain calm gives my strong-willed child the green light to unload in an unhealthy way.

But when I breathe, it allows my child to try to do the same thing, too. Breathe.

I wish I always had the patience to act how I did in the above scene. I don’t. I often lose my temper and scold her too harshly in an attempt for a quick fix.

But I try to remember that I’m my kids’ safe space. They share the shiny and bright moments with anyone. They say please and thank you, listen to directions, and do their best to please adults all day long at school. And at home, they are spent. So, they save their sour, awful moments for us. And as hard as those moments can feel sometimes, we’re lucky we get to help them through this rocky life.

Yes, our strong-willed children seem to have more boulders and steep cliffs in front of them. And some days, it feels like they’re purposely running into those hurdles. But we’re the soft cushion below them. When they need to unravel, they choose us. Us.

The truth is that all kids, even strong-willed kids, deserve to be heard. Even though it’s hard work.

While these explosive souls take more patience, I believe that if we remember to breathe, the payoffs just might change the world.

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