Embracing and Empowering Your Strong-Willed Child with Randi Rubenstein
In today’s episode of the Gentle Parenting Show, Kim sits down with Randi Rubenstein. Randi is the founder of Mastermind Parenting, host of the Mastermind Parenting Podcast, and author of The Parent Gap. Her mission is that every human deserves to have a family that gets along and no one should ever feel like the problem child. Today Kim and Randi talk about boundaries, how to show empathy when parenting, and Randi gives our listeners a special gift.
Why Mastermind Parenting for A Strong-Willed Child?
Randi created Mastermind Parenting as a parent of a strong-willed child herself. She had spent almost 20 years trying to find the right tools for herself and her child. Randi spent hours doing research on everything from the brain to behavior and the nervous system. She was on a mission to help her strong-willed child become happier, and help her whole family unit find peace.
Once Randi found out what worked for her family, she was on a mission to share what she figured out with other families. So many families have a strong-willed child and are just walking around on eggshells trying to keep that child happy. Randi found tools that reconditioned her brain. She is passionate about shame-free parenting where are the parents are calm, clear, and the CEO of the family.
Raising Cooperative Children
Randi has discovered that so many parents are focused on obedience. That word is tricky because it often reminds Randi of dog training rather than parenting. But, so many parents of strong-willed children come to Randi asking how to make their child more “obedient.”
Children are born wanting to be helpful, cooperative and most of all noticed. Randi shares a great analogy called the Taylor Swift example. If you’re a huge fan of Taylor Swift and happen to be sitting front row at her concert, you are going to do anything to get her attention. Randi explains that our kids are huge fans of us, and constantly have a front-row seat to our lives. They will do anything to get our attention.
When we do give our kids attention, what we focus on grows. By focusing on the good, we help our strong-willed child learn how to show up as cooperative and helpful. What we don’t want to do is constantly focus on the negative. If we can handle tantrums, slip-ups, and mistakes in a firm but loving way, our children won’t negative self-talk themselves forever.
It’s important to teach our children that when they mess up, they can try again tomorrow. Show your child that you get it, that you mess up too, but show them to control those frustrated feelings. Randi says the best tools to manage the internal state of a strong-willed child are empathy and structure.
Finding Time to Parent a Strong-Willed Child
Having a strong-willed child can feel exhausting. It is especially hard when you are away from your child most of the day and have to deal with the big emotions around dinner time and bedtime. When you feel overwhelmed with time, Randi says the most important thing to focus on is connection. She says to “connect before you correct.” Also, make sure a child’s basic needs are met before you correct them. Basics needs are sleep, food, and water.
Times like dinner and bedtime can feel so volatile with a strong-willed child. Randi says this may be because the child didn’t have their “love cup” filled during the day. She says that even if you’re busy with work, school, or other children to really focus on PET, which stands for present engaged time. A lot of parents feel like they don’t have the time for this, but you can turn it into any task you need to do. Making dinner, cleaning the house, setting the table, running errands can all be present engaged time. Just put your phone away, recruit your child to help, and really connect and talk with them during these tasks.
Attention and Strong-Willed Children
When children are about 3 years old, they have a more sensitive nervous system. The world can be overstimulating to them. When they get overstimulated, they act out. When they act out, they get attention. Sensitive and strong-willed children feel more seen when they are expressing big emotions. Randi says that often when you have a strong-willed child, it feels easier to fall into the attention trap and just give in. Sometimes it’s easier to do the easy thing, but then you’re letting your child drive the bus.
In these situations, parents first need to give themselves grace and compassion during these feelings of overwhelm. It’s hard to live with someone who sends you into fight or flight mode! A parent’s goal should always be providing physical and emotional safety for their child. During a tantrum or rage, hold your child until you know they’re safe. When they are heightened and in an elevated state, anything you say is going to overload them. Give them empathy non verbally. Look at them with soft, loving eyes. Once their little bodies relax, this is when you can use your words. But don’t immediately try to fix and solve everything. Connect with them before you correct the behavior.
Setting Boundaries With a Strong-Willed Child
Randi says that as parents, and especially as mothers, that we’re almost set up for failure because we’re taught to please other people from a young age. She notices this when women add “OK?” at the end of sentences. She says to stop ending things with questions, especially when dealing with a strong-willed child. We don’t need to ask permission from other people for everything. Children are so literal that when they hear us asking permission, they just don’t answer because they don’t want to give permission.
Another boundary to set with a strong-willed child is to not engage until they’re in a calmer state. You can of course give non-verbal empathy during these times, but wait until they are in a calmer state to have a discussion. Randi also says to stop asking questions about things like bedtime and bathtime and to just loving stick to your routine.
When we don’t set boundaries, we’re showing our kids it’s ok to not have boundaries. We need to be an example to these strong-willed children and show them that boundaries are ok and needed. Randi says that as parents we need to “speak with leadership language and become the CEO that understands how to direct the person.”
Are Boundaries and Limits Too Strict?
A lot of parents are nervous to set boundaries because they grew up in a household that was “too strict”. But, there’s a difference between structure and control. Structure is needed, but having a lack of control causes someone to act out. If there is no structure in a house, a child’s behavior is less than ideal, and a parent loses it more often.
Children crave structure, they like to know what’s going on. When this is done without control and in a non-forceful way, kids love it. Randi says that “providing structure is actually really respectful of your kids because you get to have more fun.”
Remember that our children are watching us. Have awareness about moving forward, getting help, and just trying to get better every day. Randi says that “children actually do better when we’re imperfect, as long as they see us figure out how to repair whatever mistake we made.”
Parenting is an evolution. Just try to get better every single day. Try to really listen to your kids. Don’t immediately try to fix all their issues, but listen to them and connect with them.
A Free Gift From Randi
Randi put together a 3-day program to help go from angry to aligned when parenting a strong-willed child. This program is usually for sale on her website, but she is giving it to our listeners for free right HERE.
This 3-day program digs into all of these concepts from the podcast and helps you understand your strong-willed child. There are practical tools to help your family become more cohesive.