My son was an elephant when he was 3. For the entire year, he lived in his elephant costume. He wore it from sun up to sun down, and I, his mother, let him. Sure, it got a little ragged around the edges, and in June people would give me odd looks and ask if he was getting ready for Halloween. I would force a chuckle and say “No, he just really likes being an elephant.”.
But the truth is, it drove me a little nuts. I had to block out the looks and condescending pats on the shoulder, the half-hearted “This too shall pass” comments from older women. A few people were absolutely delighted by it and their looks were encouraging. But most of all, I just felt the same as when that same elephant would unbuckle his seatbelt and climb out of the stroller to throw a fit on the floor of the grocery store. Head down, I would block out the stares and whispers as I picked up my writhing elephant, doing my best to avoid his thrashing arms and legs and head, and I would buckle him back into the stroller without saying a word.
My son is a strong-willed child. He chooses his own path, for better or for worse. He’s older now and uses that strong-will more selectively, but there were many, many mornings when I dreaded waking up because it meant I would have to immediately be ready for battle at every turn. That’s why my son was an elephant for a year. It was a battle I chose not to fight.
If you’re a parent, I’m willing to bet you have at least one strong-willed child too. If you’re not sure, take a look at this checklist from Cynthia Tobias‘ book You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded) and check off the statements that describe your child:
How Strong-Willed Are You?
Checking Your SWC Quotient
Mark only those statements that are true almost 100% of the time:
The Strong-Willed Child (SWC) …
___ almost never accepts words like “impossible” or phrases like “it can’t be done.”
___ can move with lightning speed from a warm, loving presence to a cold, immovable force.
___ may argue the point into the ground, sometimes just to see how far into the ground the point will go.
___ when bored, would rather create a crisis than have a day go by without incident.
___ considers rules to be more like guidelines (i.e. As long as I’m abiding by the “spirit of the law”, why are you being so picky?)
___ shows great creativity and resourcefulness—seems to always find a way to accomplish a goal.
___ can turn what seems to be the smallest issue into a grand crusade or a raging controversy.
___ doesn’t do things just because “you’re supposed to” –it needs to matter personally.
___ refuses to obey unconditionally—seems to always have a few terms of negotiation before complying.
___ is not afraid to try the unknown; to conquer the unfamiliar (although each SWC chooses his or her own risks).
___ can take what was meant to be the simplest request and interpret it as an offensive ultimatum.
___ may not actually apologize, but almost always makes things right.
Your Score: How Much Strong Will Do You Have?
0-3 – You’ve got it, but you don’t use it much.
4-7 – You use it when you need to, but not on a daily basis.
8-10 – You’ve got a very healthy dose of it, but you can back off when you want to.
11-12 – You don’t leave home without it—and it’s almost impossible to not use it.
What was your child’s score? And how many of those statements apply to you, as a parent?
It wasn’t until I started looking for ways to handle my strong-willed child that I discovered that I too, am very strong-willed. That’s something that came in very handy during many face-offs. Like the stroller incident. But it wasn’t just my own stubbornness that got us through those years (mostly) intact. It was truly a daily battle.
What’s your favourite strong-willed child story?
And what do you find works best in getting your child through the day?