Parenting children who have a “mind of their own”
Sophia Huang, mother of three
3 minutes
Sophia Huang, mother of three

Photos taken in collaboration with Deborah Quek, featuring one of our ParentWise families

What if you have a highly intelligent child who doesn’t follow your leading? Previously on "Discipline is not a dirty word", I shared some principles on discipline that I live by. Here are some other lessons I’ve learnt while parenting children who have a mind of their own.

1. Give them a choice of sorts

Sometimes buy-in is needed for opinionated and strong-willed children. A headstrong friend of mine told me her father used to give her a choice by saying, “You could stay here and keep crying, or we could go together now and do something fun."

Another example: “You don’t want to bathe now? Ok tell me what time you will do this.”

2. Use humour and wit

There will be times kids just don’t want to follow our instructions. But for inconsequential things, as a matter of preference, we turn to unconventional methods first. Again, here's a few examples.

Scenario 1: The kids don’t want to eat their veggies. Instead of punishing them, my hubby encourages them in ways such as this: “Eating chicken makes you strong! Then you can be strong like Daddy!”

Scenario 2: The kids don’t want to bathe. Perhaps you could make bath time fun by allowing them to play with water toys or bubbles in the shower. (Although that may mean they now don’t want to leave the bath!)

Scenario 3: The kids don’t want to go to school. For a period of time, I was playing "treasure hunt" every day with my child before the bus came.

Many parenting issues can be gently side-stepped using creative methods. Or as my hubby always says, “Time to take out the WMDs (weapons of mass distraction)!”

The distraction method, however, only works before a certain age. We often use toys to distract our baby so we can feed him (no, baby-led weaning doesn't work for us as it becomes a food-flinging fest).

3. Use tone signals

There are definitely times we just need to be firm. Obedience doesn’t mean my kid is an unthinking, unfeeling robot that does my commands. My instructions and guidance are what will keep him or her safe and well. For example, “This is the car park. You have to hold my hand and listen closely. Look left, is there a car? No, okay, we can cross. Pay attention now.”

During critical situations when I need them to listen and follow immediately, my tone changes. Children are quick to catch on and understand when the situation becomes urgent or important.

4. Gentleness, but also, consequences

It is important for kids to understand that there are consequences for their actions. For example, if they go around hitting others, someone will get hurt. Children can also learn from natural consequences, such as if they throw their toys, they will get destroyed and will have to be discarded.

Instead of being quick to mete out punishment, we try to ask a simple question, “Why?”

“Why did you hit your sister?” The reason might be “because she was mean to me” or “because she hit me first”. The answers are very telling when we stop and ask that very simple question. “Why did you draw on the walls?” Perhaps the child was exercising creativity and you have a Picasso on your hands!

After asking “why”, we can begin to address the deeper issues. By taking some time to hear them out and explain why they have done wrong, we can teach our children to understand more than just instructions and rules. Connection before correction.

5. Living by example

A lot of values are caught, not taught. Every parent, I believe, is an influencer who can mould their children to become like them. This humbles me. I am far from perfect and sometimes disciplining my child feels like I am the one being changed instead. Through parenting my kids, I have become more patient, resilient, creative and understanding.

Parenting is hard work. As children grow, we as parents are growing and maturing too.

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