This is a continuation of a review of Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s book, Raising Your Spirited Child. This book would have been such a boon to me in raising my two sons. They were good boys, but both were spirited in different ways. I felt like I was banging my head against a wall many days, especially before they could talk well and again when they were teenagers.
The section on persistence is a long section and much of it deals with children who can talk well enough to negotiate. Though this site is primarily for moms with younger children, there is no way to understand the principles without discussing the goal and general methods of dealing with persistence in older children first. Please bear with me, it is worth the journey.
“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will and the other from a strong won’t.”—Howard Ward Beecher
“To tell these kids no, to thwart their efforts, is to risk their wrath. Even as infants they are incredibly determined and strong. They push where other kids don’t push. They demand more than other kids demand. And they never give up. It is nearly impossible to ignore them or distract them. In every situation they meet us head-on, ready to do battle.” Does this sound familiar? Read on. . .there is help for you.
Persistence is the temperamental trait that plays a major role in power struggles. Spirited kids need, want, and seek power. By recognizing our children’s drive and goal orientation, we can teach them to channel their persistence appropriately–to use it as an asset rather than a weapon. So, our goal is to choose our battles wisely so we don’t have to fight every day.
“When spirited kids get frustrated and angry, stuck on one issue or solution, we are frequently advised to ignore them or to try to distract them. These techniques often work with other kids, but persistent kids won’t let you ignore them. They’ll just scream louder and longer until you can’t stand it anymore. They are also not easily distracted. They know what they want, and they’re not about to give up on it until they’ve got it or found something better. What does work is letting them know you are listening, doing your best to understand what is important to them.
“Next time your child starts to lose it, say to her, ‘I am listening. I am trying to understand.’ Listening for understanding requires that we stop everything else we’re doing and think about what our children are saying. It does not mean looking for an opening for ourselves or thinking about what we will say next.”
Ms Kurcinka has a long section on negotiation. She based her method on Getting to Yes; Negotiating Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher and William Ury. “Principles negotiation focuses not on what each side says it will or won’t do but on finding common interests and solutions. It allows us to develop a relationship with our children that fosters a sense of teamwork: two individuals working together, respecting each other and finding solutions that allow both a sense of dignity and personal power.”
She talks about looking for PIECE (Position, Interests, Expectations, Consensus, Evaluate) which leads you to peace. I will very briefly summarize each of these. I strongly recommend you read the book for her examples and to better understand how this works.
Positions slam us into corners every time. The question hangs in the air: Who will win and who will lose? The challenge is to get out of our corners and find a solution that is acceptable to both of us; to focus on our common interests rather than on our positions.
Interests. Every time you and your child lock into a position there is a reason; an interest or need you are trying to meet. In order to resolve our differences, we have to clarify those interests.
“Get down to eye level with your child and start listening–really listening. You can ask your child directly why she wants . . . If she’s too young to answer you or she isn’t able to articulate why, you may have to guess by asking questions. Even a two-year-old will begin to realize that you are trying to listen and understand what it is that she wants. Her tension will diminish as you try.”
This is “helping your child learn to express their needs and wants clearly with words rather than by pushing, shoving, screaming, and crying. And the researchers tell us that not only will you enhance your relationship with your children by practicing negotiating with them, but you will also enhance their ability to get along with their peers.”
Expectations. “Before you begin exploring possible solutions with your child, check the existing expectations and rules. Do they provide the answer? If the rules and expectations don’t provide the answer, you and your child will have to come up with your own. This isn’t always easy with a persistent child who tends to lock into his position.”
Consensus. It takes time for spirited; kids to unlock and move out of their positions. They need to hear from us, “You are very smart and creative. You can find another solution. We are problem solvers.” Most power struggles happen when the intensity is too high; when we are in a rush; when we are fatigued; or when we are not allowing enough time to unlock.
Your child cannot unlock until his body is calm. You can also actively teach your child how to unlock by your own example. Talk through your own disappointment when your plans are thwarted and how you make different choices.
Brainstorm. The rule for brainstorming is anything goes. At this point nothing is evaluated, put down, thrown out, or ridiculed. You can come up with any solutions. In fact, throwing in a few humorous ideas often eases the tension and keeps you working together until you find just the right solution.
Evaluate. Protect everyone’s interests by agreeing to evaluate your solution at a later time. It is not abdicating our parental authority to sometimes say yes and to allow our spirited children to try a new idea or come up with the solution to a problem. In fact, realizing that they are good problem solvers is a major breakthrough for persistent kids. It helps them to stop the struggles before they ever start.
Begin teaching your persistent child even before they can talk.
“We can look around our home and plan for a yes environment that fosters peace. Is your home a good place for kids to live, or is it a battlefield pitting parents against determined, energetic explorers? Are there cupboards available for little investigators? Or is it a struggle every time your toddler heads for the kitchen? Is there somewhere to jump, other than the couch? Where are the books? Are they easy to grab? Where is the entertainment center? Are you begging to have buttons pushed or wires pulled? Where are the hooks for coats? Can a child get her sweater down without assistance? How big are the drinking glasses and where are they stored? Are they easy for a child to get to and handle without spills? The more places in your home that are child-safe and manageable, the less you’ll have to fight with your tenacious child about ‘getting out and staying out’ of things and places.
“Yes, a child does need to learn to respect the things of others, but during the early years everything in your child’s brain is telling her to find out how her world works. It is an essential stage of development. Add a persistent temperament, and the need to explore is stronger than her ability to stop herself. By saying yes with your environment, you are working with your child’s temperament instead of against it. You are appreciating and enjoying her inquisitiveness and her resolve and are avoiding a fight that doesn’t need to happen. This isn’t giving in. This is planning for peace.”
Good Parents do say ‘No”
“Spirited kids, more than other children, need confident parents—adults who, when it comes to teaching the basic rules and values in their lives, are willing to be just as persistent and adamant as their strong-willed children. Parents who are willing to say: ‘I will not let you . . .’ ‘I will help you stop . . .’ ‘The rule is . . .’ and ‘It’s my job to keep you safe.’ Adults who are willing to go into battle when it is called for. It isn’t easy, especially if you’re not as temperamentally persistent as your child.”
Ada Alden, parent educator and mother of two adult daughters is emphatic. “Limits are a must. Kids need reassurance that they are loved. If they don’t have limits, they don’t feel loved and they’ll look for it somewhere else. Self-reliance comes about after establishing a sense of personal security. Kids have to know these are the ‘yeses’ and these are the ‘noes’; I can count on them. Spirited kids need it even more.”
Guidelines for rules:
1. Is the behavior safe?
2. Is it respectful of self and others?
3. Is it respectful of the environment?
If it’s not, it’s the adult’s job to help the kids stop.
As I’ve said in other articles about discipline, Ms. Kurcinka repeats basic principles of good discipline: clear rules, consistent application, and natural, logical consequences. All of these must be communicated in a controlled, firm tone.
Finally, the concept of looking for positive solutions is an unfamiliar concept to many people. “Most of us are much more familiar with the I-win/you-lose style of negotiating. It’s a different world for which we are preparing our children–a world in which communication and problem-solving skills are critical to survival. We want to raise adults who can speak up for their own needs, solve problems, and sometimes question authority.”