I am not a patient person. I am one of those people who start pacing the floor five minutes before the person I am waiting for is actually late. I am neurotically early for everything. When I am reading a book in a series, I often go on Amazon to read the description of the next book just to find out what’s going to happen. I used to speed everywhere I went, that is until I got pulled over one too many times. This is why I was so surprised when my daughter was born, I seemed to have an endless supply of patience: I didn’t really need sleep; I could read the same book over and over again; I could sit for hours just watching her in her crib. I thought to myself, “I’ve got this—I’m a ‘natural’!” Then, my daughter turned about 15 months old, and started to show signs of a new personality, one we liked to call spirited, strong-willed, intense, . . . you see the trend? My sweet, somewhat docile, baby was now becoming a person I didn’t know how to handle. As the months went by, this side of her only intensified: she refused to eat foods she didn’t want, and subsequently lived mostly on milk; she learned to climb out of her crib and nothing we did could get her back in it; she would throw what I called “silent temper tantrums” in which she would fall on the floor—this could be at the daycare, the grocery store, our kitchen, just about anywhere—and not make a sound until she got what she wanted (it took me about a week to realize what was happening and to warn the daycare providers not to give in). I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand the concept of time out, and I was at a loss as to how to get her to do what I wanted. As she got a little older, once she could talk in full sentences, I thought it would get easier . . . but it didn’t. In fact, it may have gotten worse. Here is an example of a conversation with her:
Me [calmly]: Ayse, if you don’t let me brush your hair, we won’t go to the park.
Ayse: No brush hair! I want PARK!
Me [losing patience]: We aren’t going to the park unless I brush your hair.
Ayse [screaming]: No hair! PARK! PARK! PARK!
Me [freaking out]: Forget the park! Go to your room!!!!
Ayse [crying in the background]: I want PARK!!!!
I was stuck in a constant losing battle. I couldn’t fathom how a two-year-old—one who seemed rather intelligent—just couldn’t understand “if” clauses. I would think to myself, “I’m speaking clearly. She knows all of these words. Why doesn’t she understand me?!” It took me awhile to learn that children—until the age of maybe four or five—don’t really understand consequences. So, when I would use both the thing she wanted AND the thing she didn’t want in the same sentence, she would react to both. Unfortunately, knowing this fact didn’t actually help me, since I was still unable to get her to do what I wanted, but it did help me to understand her more. At some point during this period of frustration, I found an article about strong-willed children. Here is the gist of it: Parents shouldn’t try to “break” their children to their will; the same child who won’t give in to you is the same child that will also stand up to peer pressure. I took this advice to heart, although it has been a delicate balance between letting my daughter “win” and having her respect her father and I. The best way to describe the way I parent her since reading that article is to say that I choose my battles carefully—I don’t need to win all of them. She is now 11, and the same strong-willed child she first showed us back at 15 months, but we argue less (although, she still doesn’t like to clean her room, load the dishwasher, or pick up her clothes off the bathroom floor). My advice to her as she gets older is to keep being the same intense, strong-willed, and determined person that she is—it will serve her well in life—but to know that it’s okay to give in sometimes, the challenge is knowing when to do it.