Guest view: Music to a parent’s ears
There are some words that just make my day. “How did you survive raising me?!” is a question that is truly music to my ears.
My oldest son called me one morning to say he was absolutely exhausted from dealing with his 5-year-old. I smiled. You see, Dan was my challenging child. He went on to tell me how Jackson insisted upon dressing like a pirate for preschool that day. They tried everything under the sun to convince him it was not appropriate to wear a costume to school in December, but Jackson persisted. I smiled even more.
After much cajoling, bribing and offering other choices including some of his favorite shirts, the exasperated parents gave up. I was grinning like the Grinch at that point. They toted the little pirate and his backpack to their child care provider’s house since she would be the one taking him to school later that morning.
When they got to the sitter’s house, my son presented his pirate child to her and said, “Well, this is what he wants to wear today. We gave up.”
Very calmly and matter of factly, this wonderful caregiver said, “OK, Jackson. Just so you know, it isn’t Halloween, and you will be the only kid wearing a costume today. I am concerned that the other kids will laugh at you.”
Jackson thought about it. He wanted to be a pirate today. A little while later, she tried this approach again, but this time Jackson reconsidered.
“How would you like to put your costume on when you come home from school, and you can wear it for the rest of the day?”
Now that was a deal. Jackson changed into his school clothes, and everyone was happy.
“Sounds like it all worked out,” was my response to my son.
“Finally,” he said. “But why do we have to go through this stuff every morning? He always insists on doing something his own way.”
Clearly, this apple didn’t fall far from the tree. There wasn’t a day when we didn’t have a battle of the wills to kick off the morning. I would lie in bed and ask what on earth my son would challenge me about today. Sometimes it was teeth brushing; other times it had to do with the way his food was served.
The whole thing gave me flashbacks to another 5-year-old who flatly refused to wear a star on his head during a Christmas performance.
I remember one maddening morning after driving to work with white knuckles clutching the steering wheel when I placed a desperate call to our pediatrician. I implored him to tell me what to do with this child. I was clean out of ideas. The kind doctor explained to me what I had on my hands was a strong-willed child with whom we had to choose our battles.
We needed some different tools to parent this kid. We had to learn to state our expectations clearly, stay calm and walk away. When appropriate, give choices and have him stick with the choice he made. Point out the possible outcomes of his choices, and as long as it is safe, let him live with it.
Staying calm was the hardest part of it all, and having the sustained energy to deal with a strong-willed child was a close second.
Persistence is both a blessing and a curse. Channeled properly, it leads to focus, drive and determination. For parents, it can be draining.
In a nutshell, it is all about choosing one’s battles wisely, letting your child make choices and being comfortable with the outcomes.
Yes, my kid was the only one in the Christmas pageant who did not have a star on his head. He knew he would stand out, possibly get some strange looks, but he was OK with that. We had to be, too, so we sat back and enjoyed the show as our child proudly marched to his own beat.
Editor’s note: Denise Continenza is the family and consumer sciences educator with Penn State Extension, Lehigh and Northampton counties.