Lessons My Strong-Willed Toddler Has Taught Me


A Mother Looking Back

Today is my Teeny’s Birthday! I Know every mom says this about their children, but I seriously cannot figure out how 5 years has gone by so quickly!

It seems as if it was just yesterday that I was breathlessly – desperately reaching for her to be placed in my arms as she took her first breaths.

My sister – Super Mom of 5 – has always said that if she could relive any day of her life, she would choose the days her children were born. Until I delivered my Teeny, I never truly appreciated her sentiment when saying this. But now, with two of my own, I could not agree with her more.

I often look back on the novelty and excitement of that day and struggle to recall the details.

How her eyes always seemed to find mine in a room full of visitors…

Her sweet smell that seemed to calm my every nerve as her fuzzy head snuggled into my neck for the first time…

How she barely cried but was as alert as any newborn has ever been…

The suffocating fear of having to take her home…

My inability to take my eyes off of her for more than 30 seconds at a time…

I could go on and on trying to remember the emotions, the conversations, the minute-by-minute details of that perfect day.

And, here I am,5 years later with an intelligent, determined, independent, loving, observant daughter with whom I have learned many, many lessons about motherhood and raising children.

Especially those hard-to-swallow lessons that can only be learned by raising a strong-willed child. Because that is the perfect description for my Teeny: she is as strong-willed as they come.

She knows what she wants and when she wants it; she will determinedly find the answer to any question she has, even if she has to ask a complete stranger; she is honest to a fault (she is always the first to tell me if she’s been “making bad choices”); and (my favorite as her mom) she has her very own rhythm to which she lives her life.

She is my Teeny.let her be herself

A Mother Resigned

I mentioned before about my having learned many lessons with my Teeny over these last five years. I’d like to spend some time today and share some of these lessons with you.

If you’re anything like I was, you probably thought your children would be perfect, well-behaved, sweet little angels every second of their beautiful lives.

Then comes that cute, pudgy little hand flying out of nowhere, smacking you across the face for the first time.

Can we say “Rude Awakening”?

To be completely honest, I watched others raise their children for a very long time before having my first at 26. I worked with children with special needs. I was a paraprofessional in an elementary school who sometimes had to lead classrooms. I was also a nanny for quite a while. Because I held all of these positions and loved each and every one of them, I seriously believed that my “training” in behavior management would be the ultimate prevention of tantrums and tiny violence when I became a mother.

No thought or belief has ever nor will ever be more false than this one of mine.

I can only assume that the Lord gave me my Teeny as a means of humbling me for harboring this very self-righteous attitude.

And, I completely accept His chastening… *knowing smirk*

From the time she was 10-months-old, my Teeny has never stopped surprising me with how determined she is to be in control and how very smart she can be in order to get that control.

Needless to say, we’ve had quite a few power struggles over the last few years (because, as she is very quick to remind me, I’m “too bossy all the time”).

Yup, we’re an interesting pair, the two of us 🙂

mother and daughter

Characteristics of a Strong-willed Child

Having worked in the positions I have with children and now having been a mom to my Teeny for five years, I’ve come to recognize different characteristics in children with that extra pinch of determination thrown into their DNA.

The following list is made up of these characteristics I see in my Teeny that I believe qualify her as a “strong-willed” child.

  • can be the very best helper (if it’s her idea)
  • loves to learn/asks a lot of questions
  • socially outgoing
  • very intelligent
  • strongly prefers to do things her own way
  • speaks her mind/does not bottle feelings up
  • excessive amounts of energy
  • a leader
  • strong desire to be heard/seen
  • easily over-stimulated
  • very quick to get frustrated, even angry
  • tends to use physical aggression in response to frustration
  • the constant need for control
  • pushes boundaries as much as possible
  • tends to be argumentative

It is the manifestation of these characteristics on a day to day basis that has put me in some very difficult power struggles with my darling daughter. Thankfully, though, through much trial and error, she and I have made some excellent progress together over the last few years.

Lessons My Strong-willed Toddler Has Taught Me

1. Let Her Be Herself

Basically, I am a bit of a control freak. I know that when I am working with Teeny on making better choices or asking for things in a respectful way or interacting appropriately with her peers, I can be waaaayyyyy too controlling. I’ get so embarrassed remembering the many times I’ve hollered at her from across a crowded room, demanding she rephrase a perfectly acceptable request because it “didn’t suite my standards”.

Yeah, I’m that mom. But I’m working on it!

This lesson is the most recent of many that has opened my eyes to who my daughter truly is right now. She is a very sweet, kind, funny little girl.

But she is first and foremost a little girl. A kid! It’s important for her to be able to just be a kid without me criticizing every little tiny word that comes out of her mouth.

Upon realizing this about myself, I’ve made it a point to be less vocal in how she interacts with people. And, unsurprising to any sane person, she is great! People love her! She is engaging and smart and so full of life. I was missing out on so much of this by trying to constantly monitor every interaction she had with another person.

If anything, I’ve gotten to know my daughter more by being less involved.

2. Be as Descriptive and Informative as Possible

This lesson lends itself to my Teeny’s tendency to become very overstimulated very quickly, especially with new situations.

Often times, I get very busy with all of my little projects I create for myself which means that Teeny&Sweets’ lives are also very chaotic at times.

Because of this, I’ve had to first learn to realize when I need to be Mom first. And for those times that we are going to be busy and it can’t be helped, I make it a point to explain to Teeny in as much detail as she can handle what is going to happen throughout any given day. And its made all the difference.

3. Truly Hear What She is Saying

And make sure she knows you’re listening.

As a mom, it’s very easy to tune out the constant chatter of your children. I’ve had days when I’ve heard “mom” said so many times, in so many different tones that I completely shut down and stopped listening to anything and everything my girls were trying to say.

It’s days like this when Teeny and I tend to have most of our conflicts.

If she feels ignored, her first response is to do something drastic (for example: start picking on her little sister) in order to get my attention. Before I started recognizing this cycle, her behavior and my reaction to her behavior often set us off into a battle of wills, completely exhausting each of us by the end of the day.

Doing my best to set the breaks before we get out of control, I now make sure we have an open channel of communication between us. If she is pestering and saying my name too much for no reason, I tell her directly how it makes me feel. If she is having a hard time and starting to act out, I turn my full attention to her and allow her to tell me what she needs and what I can do to help her. It’s amazed me how articulate my Teeny has become at such a young age! But, it’s helped immensely with overcoming the contention between us.

4. It’s Okay to Say “Yes”

Raising a strong-willed child brings about many, many opportunities for correction and denial just for the sake of keeping her safe. But, I soon realized my ‘No” response had become automated and Teeny’s accepting reaction seemed to be growing more obstinate.

It took some time on my part, but I started to consciously make an effort to say “Yes” more to her many, many requests and “plans” as she calls them. If it wasn’t really that big of a deal for her to do something, I allowed it, grateful she was at least asking permission.

The “Yes” effect was immediate. For both of us, there was less tension surrounding our daily activities and I can only assume Teeny felt freer to be herself and explore, which is exactly what every toddler needs.

5. Let Her Hear You Praising Her to Others

This tendency I developed while raising Teeny is one that I am so ashamed of. In an effort to ensure that other adults new what to expect from my sweet little girl, I always seemed to come across as so negative about her in the process. I was so worried about other people knowing I understood that my child could be difficult to handle that I completely dismissed Teeny’s feelings of acceptance and safety with me.

So ashamed of myself.

The change was simple: be praising and encouraging in how I talked to others about this child I absolutely adore. Highlight her strengths. Let others – AND TEENY – know she is an amazing little human.

At one point when I was working through making this change in myself, I remember talking to another mom about my Teeny while she stood next to me holding my hand. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I do remember the way Teeny’s head snapped up to look at me with the biggest grin on her face. I’ll never forget that look of pure acceptance and love.

She needs to know that I love and accept her always.

6. She Needs You to Be Her Calm

With all of the emotions involved in parenting, it’s so easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated. I regularly have days when I want to throw in the towel, crawl back to bed, and just give up. And my girls can definitely tell when I’m having this type of day, especially Teeny.

I don’t know if she thinks the “No” Monster is going to make an appearance or if she’s just channeling my energy, but I can usually count on her dishing out an extra dose of defiance when I’m struggling.

Thankfully, early on in the game, I discovered the importance of at least appearing calm, especially if things have already started to escalate. Moving down to her level, speaking in a soft, loving voice, and offering a hug (sometimes a Hug fixes everything for my Teeny) quickly turns an entire day of chaos around. As long as I maintain this approachable, calm attitude, she and I are able to make it through our tough days a little more smoothly.

I’ve also applied this attitude to anytime Teeny is having a meltdown, fight, or battle with fear. It works wonders in helping me help her process the situations she faces every day.

I am her Mom. I’m supposed to be her strength to get her through. It’s my responsibility to make sure she knows she can come to me when she needs help.

give her control

My amazingly talented, happy, energetic little Teeny is 5-years-old today and I couldn’t be more proud of who she is. I have amazingly high hopes for her future. She is strong and of great character. I just want to make sure She and the world know how much I love this child.

Motherhood is my greatest adventure and I am so grateful to be on this winding quest with my Teeny.

Happy5th, Baby Girl 🙂 You are SO loved!


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