The Struggle IS the Growth

Many times when I am consulting with parents or giving talks around the country, I often get asked, “How can I get my child to stop hitting, swearing, teasing etc…?” I often respond with a quote from Dr. Becky Bailey that is most appropriate; “Short of Duck tape and rope, I don’t know?” Parents seemed consumed by the myth that we have the power to make our children behave. We think that it is our job to make our kids mind, make our kids respect us, make our kids learn or even make our kids happy! We think that if our children aren’t happy or we can’t “happy them up” when they are upset, then somehow we have failed as parents. This myth is helping to create what appears to be an epidemic of permissive parenting. Unfortunately the result of this style of parenting can be detrimental as it creates willful, disrespectful, and demanding children that often do not feel loved.
See if the following scenario has a familiar ring. You are at the check out counter of the grocery store with your 3 year-old daughter, Iwanit. You are putting the last of your groceries on the conveyor belt when Iwanit whines, “Mommy, I want that.” Out of the corner of your eye you see a little finger pointing in the direction of the candy stand but pretend to attend to the groceries fearing that if you acknowledge her, a power struggle is sure to ensue. For you had talked extensively with Iwanit in the parking lot about this very situation prior to entering the store. You continue to ignore her escalating requests as you internally curse the cashier for not working at the speed of light so you can get Iwanit out of the store before she creates a scene. At the same time, you are praying and pleading to the universe, to not let “it” happen this time”. You begin to notice the elderly couple behind you in line glaring while whispering and watching with scorn. Suddenly there is blood curdling scream from the cart and though you know better, you’d swear someone was just murdered. For that is the sound of the beginnings of what you feared from the start; a major power struggle! Your face is starting to turn red as you now notice everyone in the store within 100 feet of you has stopped to watch what YOU are going to do. As humiliation and frustration begin to flood through your veins, you make a futile attempt at pleading, bribery and coercion to get Iwanit to stop. Knowing it is too late; you frantically grab 5 candy bars and throw them on the conveyor belt while shushing Iwanit until she stops crying. When you get out to the parking lot, you begin on a tirade of lecture that lasts until you get home, swearing to yourself that you will never let this happen again! 
Many of us that have experienced this scene can relate to how difficult the struggle can be sometimes. Children’s fusses and fits happen for many reasons. Once you have ruled out hunger, exhaustion or illness, you can most likely count on these episodes as a result of ineffective communication or developmental issues. 
As for the process of development, children often go through periods when they are reorganization and pruning neural connections in their brains in order to be able to be ready for further growth and development of cognition. During these times they often feel anxious, stressful and unsettled. Some symptoms include changes in eating and sleeping habits, difficulty making choices, inability to adapt to change in routine, as well as cranky behavior in general. 
There is also developmental process to establishing a sense of self and young children or teens often express this by trying to control everyone and everything in their environment. Some typical behaviors are selfishness, not being able to understand from another’s perspective, lying, and defiance. Children between the early years and teens are often critical, forgetful and appear to have difficulty focusing, especially in response to your commands. It’s easier to be able to handle these behaviors when you become aware of what you have no control over: their development!
Many of us mistakenly believe that it is our job to prevent our children from feeling bad when the world doesn’t go their way, when in fact, children do not always want it to go their way. Parents are working harder than ever to maintain their households and often feel guilty because they are not spending the time they think they “should” be spending with their kids. As a result they give in to there child’s wishes hoping to “win” their love back. Love requires structure. Structure requires being able to set boundaries AND you can not set a boundary and take care of someone else’s feelings, at the same time. Structure allows children to develop expectation and predictability which helps to internally create a sense of control.
You must begin to shift the myth and believe that you are not responsible for your child’s feelings. You can’t make them mad any more than they can make you mad. Your child’s feelings are just that…their feelings! The events outside of them trigger the feelings on the inside but do not cause the feelings. The feelings are created from within and who knows what goes on in the little mind of a three-year-old (or teen for that matter), wanting the world to go a particular way? If they are trying to get a need met or are in a chaotic moment of development, they ARE going to struggle! Providing self awareness and understanding are helpful but sometimes their need is for you to simply set a boundary. That means using a firm and but respectful tone of voice that says “just do it”. Sometimes it seems that nothing works. The more you try the more they struggle. In this case, their struggle is really saying to you “I don’t feel safe. I feel a bit overwhelmed, so please make the decision for me.” That means you take charge and you make the choices for them regardless of their actions. The key is to keep your cool and be kind and firm. It is the struggle that gives us the opportunity to teach them how to cope disappointment and stress. If we constantly avoid or manipulate the struggle by giving in or trying to “happy them up”, we rob our children the opportunity for growth. 
When you can set a boundary and detach with love from the feelings they are feeling, your child will experience the struggle and grow from it! When you remember that sometimes the struggle IS the growth, then you will begin to shift the “myth” and handle those fusses and fits coolly, calmly and collectively.