Strong-Willed Child or Dreamer: 4

Chapter 4 (Chapters 1-3 here)

“If this child is sensitive and wants my approval, why doesn’t he just do what I ask?” (39)

Dreamers are especially reactive — things that seem trivial to adults can be huge to dreamers. You might not think you’re shaming or dismissing your kid, but that’s how a dreamer feels when you think what’s huge to them is trivial.

Dreamers care more than drivers about being liked — feeling disliked increases their reactivity. It’s part of being sensitive. Dreamers have an especially hard time separating behavior and being — if you disapprove of their behavior, they tend to feel you disapprove of them.

Dreamers are often “intellectually independent; they want to be different from the crowd and take the time to seriously analyze many issues” (41). But intellectual independence coexists with emotional vulnerability. Pleasers and dreamers both care about what other people think, but dreamers are unlikely to change their behavior to influence others’ perceptions of them.

To a dreamer, authoritarian parenting comes across as “unfeeling and critical.” It also tends to make them dig in their heels, rather than motivating change. Passive parenting feels “disinterested rather than approving.” What works best with dreamers is parenting that communicates “understanding and acceptance” (42).

(This idea fits in well with Positive Discipline’s idea that kids behave better when they feel better. Dreamers who feel understood and accepted are more likely to behave well — they won’t change behavior in order to earn understanding and acceptance, they have to have those first.)

So, what to do?

1. Focus on appreciating inner qualities — character, being, is, personality traits, interests — rather than accomplishments or appearance. Don’t (just) praise the artwork, but the child’s creativity, and, better yet, his compassion, generosity, ideas, problem-solving, etc.

2. Open dialogue — praise can be perceived as mere politeness that’s not going anywhere. Try to open up conversation, instead. Ask what she’s been reading lately, for example. Ask her to tell you about the drawing she made. Wonder what the Polly Pockets are up to as she plays.

3. Draw the lines respectfully.

A. Remember how quickly dreamers think disapproval of behavior equates to disapproval of them. Coming across as too stern, unwilling to listen, can convince your child he’s made you hate him. At least he might feel that way in that moment, and again next time, and it can quickly become a pattern.

B. Communicate AND have consequences. With only buddy-like communication, without consequences, you may get “full-fledged brats, controlling others with their frequent temper tantrums. And because other people will not like them, dreamers will be miserable” (44).

1. Listen to the child’s view one time, calmly acknowledging that view while letting her know she still needs to face the consequences. If she persists in trying to explain or manipulate or throw a fit, walk away — disengage.

2. Staying calm is especially important — it fosters the sense of safety that allows a dreamer to take responsibility for his actions.

3. Repeat, often, that you like your child, who she is on the inside, even though she sometimes makes mistakes or poor choices.

4. Use natural or logical consequences — natural consequences are what would naturally happen as a result of the misbehavior, logical consequences are reasonably related to the misbehavior. Not getting ready in time for school might mean staying home to do chores all day, or not having a lunch because there wasn’t time to make one.

a. Choose a consequence that doesn’t focus too much attention on the dreamer — dreamers do need lots of attention for their positive efforts, but not for their misbehavior. Attention reinforces. Be sure to notice when your kid makes efforts toward self-control.

b. Choose consequences that are more likely to foster reflection than self-pity. The authors use the example of grounding because of bad grades — the dreamer isn’t likely to spend the time at home studying. (They don’t suggest an alternative, though!)

c. Choose consequences that do not humiliate. The emphasis is not on how the consequence affects the dreamer — they may feel humiliated anyway. But don’t choose a consequence with the purpose of humiliation.

d. Choose consequences that make restitution and foster restoration. Have the child clean up the spill, contribute to replace the broken item, write an apology / ask forgiveness, etc.

All of this work is designed to help dreamers with their internal responses, so that they will be less driven to defensive behavior. We shouldn’t aim to merely cut down their stubbornness, but to help them use it wisely — to be tenacious about the right things, at the right times (52).

Three kinds of parental behavior can undermine tenacity and confidence: “Harshness leads to stubbornness. Passiveness leads to feelings of inadequacy and acting-out behaviors that are targeted at getting parental attention. And overprotection leads to general fearfulness and persistent fears” (52).

On the other hand, “when dreamers face the consequences of their stubbornness without lectures and power struggles, they respect parents and have more respect for themselves” (53).

Communicating appreciation, and listening, help lessen reactivity.

Parents who repent foster repentance in their kids. We should be willing to confess when we wrong our kids, and to ask their forgiveness. Kids should find that admitting their faults results in respect instead of disapproval.

More respect and less reactivity leads to more confidence and determination and less stubbornness.

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