I was not blessed with an obedient, angelic little bundle of joy who goes with the flow and follows my lead. No, I was blessed with an assertive, outspoken, particular and stubborn tot who knows exactly what he wants (and how to get it). And so it has been since the day he was born.
Know where I'm coming from, mama?
I used to devise ways of “taming" my rambunctious tot. Usually, I just wore myself out in the process.
As a mother first and Developmental Psychologist second, I have slowly realized that the best thing I can do for my child is to let his true nature shine on.
Does he still get time-outs for being aggressive or destructive? Most definitely. Does he still get a bit of praise or a sticker every now and again for behaving? Of course.
But in the end, his behaviors as an adult may depend more on honing my own mindset than his.
By quashing his natural tendency to be assertive, perhaps I am suppressing his future ability to stand up for himself when faced with a bullying peer or unfair working conditions as an adult.
Research even indicates that teaching children skills like assertiveness can improve their outlook on life, boost grades, and reduce the risk of depression. By repressing his stubbornness (no idea where he came across that, by the way! ?), perhaps I am inhibiting his ability to overcome peer pressure to engage in risky behaviors.
According to The Washington Post, stubborn and strong-willed tots are “more impervious to peer pressure and go after what they want with more gusto." By quelling his outspoken nature, perhaps I am crushing his ability to stand up for his political, religious or philosophical beliefs later in life.
Research even shows that rule-breaking behaviors and a bit of defiance in childhood is related to higher income 40 years later. Do I really want to completely remove my tot's feisty spirit?
Yes, my little sprout knows exactly what he wants. Yes, he can be picky, particular, and persnickety about how he likes things done. But, maybe that just means he will be persistent in his efforts to reach his educational, career, and life goals.
So what is it about these personality traits that drive us so crazy now, when they may be particularly adaptive later in life? Two words for you, mama. Self. Regulation. This is the key ingredient that is missing from a toddler's repertoire at this young age.
Self-regulation is the ability to control one's behavior in order to achieve goals, even in the face of temptation and impulses.
From refraining from touching his nose when “Simon didn't say" to holding off on eating a small snack now for the promise of a larger treat later, self-regulation can be increasingly seen as a toddler matures. Subtle instances can appear as early as 12 to 18 months, but true self-control begins to arise around 24 months.
Once your little one has a good grasp on self-regulation, it's only a matter of time before this skill begins to interact with more spirited traits, like stubbornness and defiance, and empowers your child to harness this spirit.
After all, the best leaders, learners, and live wires are those with the ability to stick to their guns and even break the rules once in a while.
As my son stubbornly refuses his veggies, mischievously slams the French doors, insists on a second reading of his favorite book, and persistently demands to practice going up and down (and up and down) the stairway, I try to think of his future.
I try to remember that his independence and determination will serve him well throughout his life. I mean, how frustrated can I get when I think about his bright future… and where he got many of these qualities to begin with?