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The Fight for Control - Day 3

Preschoolers' bodies contain a power that defies the laws of physics.  Moms of preschoolers know there is definitely something metaphysical going on in their homes.  It's also clear to Moms like me that every now and then, a special child comes along with whom the force is especially strong.

I had a cute little 3-year-old boy who often left me slack-jawed and feeling outflanked.  His will was strong and it was aided and abetted by a deft use of words and logic.  Maybe you've encountered a kid like can recognize them by the iron glint in their eyes and the furrowed brows of their Mommas.  Maybe you've got one living under your own roof.

Even though it felt like Trevor and I jockeyed for position forever...but it was really just a chunk of Trev's 3rd year.  Let me tell you, it was one INTENSE year, but it wasn't eternal.  Our toughest head-to-heads seemed to always happen on evenings Scott was at a late meeting and I was flying solo.  They started with something small...a refusal, slow obedience or unkindness.....but always something I knew I had to address consistently if I didn't want to lose my already faltering grip.  

I tried time outs, taking away privileges, talking, spanking, holding him till he relaxed, sending him to bed early.....everything I could think of to get him to give in. It seemed his ability to dig his heels in was eternal.  His heart was my goal and I felt inadequate to reach it.  My own ugly self was as much my enemy as his stubbornness.  If you asked him today he would tell you that he has clear memories of a frustrated Momma squeezing his shoulders far too hard while she "instructed" him through clenched teeth - not the imprint I was hoping to leave.  I spent many of those late nights, sitting by his sleeping cherubic face, with tears running down mine, wishing I could do better.  I was winning some battles but feared I was losing the war.

If you've got a sweet little baby giving you a run for your money right now, I want to give you some encouragement and a simple tool to help you walk through your days.

First, some perspective.  This will likely not last forever.  It's a question of submission to authority...and submission is hard.  Just like our favorite superheroes, our kids fight an epic battle within themselves to decide whether to use their awesome powers for good or for evil, whether to submit themselves to an authority greater than themselves.  Some kids take a little longer to decide than others and add fireworks to their decision making process.  Spiderman and Batman both ultimately chose to be good guys and serve mankind with their strength. Your baby is working out that same decision while they're digging in their heels.

As I was in the weeds, I found myself wishing for a magic form of discipline that would change Trevor's ways.  I don't think I ever found it.  Sometime when he was 4 or 5 years old, I suddenly realized our battles weren't epic anymore. In fact, I couldn't remember how long it had been since we had had an all-out stalemate.  His heart had made a quiet, but solid shift with respect to authority.  The magic I was hoping for?  I think it was time and consistent authority, maybe it occurred the 389th time boundaries of behavior were in the same place he found them every other time he challenged. Maybe that was the moment he decided to give in and believe they would remain forever.  I'm sure glad I didn't wimp out at challenge #388.

Now, some practical help.  I learned a little trick that helped me manage Trevor's stubborn behavior without feeling like the only thing I did with him was discipline and correct.  A practiced eye can recognize the first couple steps toward a collision course with a stubborn preschooler.  Let me give you permission right now, tired Momma, to side-step a few of these battles and circumvent them with a cool little tool called "Give them a choice and get them drunk on power that makes them forget the bigger battle they were hoping to fight."

Most of the time there is more than one way to get the job done and you can give your little person a choice of how they want to obey.

For instance, it's time to leave the house and they need to wear something warm.  You can issue a gift-wrapped opportunity for your stubborn soul to defy you by saying, "Get your coat on."  A time-sensitive moment like this is just what the little person who longs to be in control is ready to grab.  Mom's options are limited when the clock is ticking.  Next time try this instead, "It's time to leave and it's cold outside.  Would you like to wear this coat or your favorite sweatshirt?"  You just changed the rules of engagement!  Now, your sweetie has the thing they're always trying to wrest from you, CONTROL, but it's control within submission to your authority because either of their choices is obeying you.

I remember watching a look of confusion flicker across Trev's eyes as he contemplated my offer.  The trick is to only give them about 10 seconds to decide and then sweetly make the decision for them if they don't.  You'll probably have a couple tantrums in the beginning as they figure out that you're serious about them making a quick choice. You'll make it through them because you know each tantrum puts you one time closer to the time they believe you and start making their own quick choices.

You can give them choices all day long....serious ones and silly ones....but always options where both are obedience.
"Would you like to eat carrots or celery for lunch?"
"Would you like to hop or skip while you pick up your toys?"
"Would you like to pick up your blocks or your trucks first?"
"Would you like to go to bed now or after you've done 2 somersaults?"

I'm not kidding when I tell you that this was magic for my relationship with Trevor.  All-day long a Mom has to direct and manage her child's behavior just to get the basics of life done.  When a child challenges Every. Single. Direction. The days are long.....much longer than your endurance.  One of our goals as parents is to teach our children submission to authority by first teaching them to submit to us.  There are plenty of unavoidable moments in parenting that require direct orders and submission.  I found that giving Trevor back-door practice in following my lead when I was able, gave him and I both the stamina to withstand the hard face-to-face confrontations that happened other times....and it helped me smile more.....and giggle with my sweet boy.  Good questions can pop the top and release just enough tension for you to make it to challenge #389.....the golden one where the heart turns.

Fast forward 15 years and I still have a strong-willed Trevor.  If you've spent any time with him at all you know him to be a guy with a dogged commitment to truth and justice.  He's firmly planted on the side of using his prodigious powers for good. He fights for God and what's right.  He thinks deeply and speaks wisely.....his opinion is one of the first I seek on a tricky situation.  He's a college student now, majoring in Bible and Philosophy.  He still gets a wicked delight in pushing my buttons every now and then but he's gotten big enough that when I squeeze him harder than I should he just laughs and calls me Momma.  I love that boy so much....that year when he was 3 was a small price to pay for the man he has become.

Just so ya know...
he gave me permission to tell the world
that he was a hard-headed cute little boy!!


  1. Great blog, friend. Helped me with my 5th grader, the strongest-willed, stubbornest, craziest boy God chose to make. And yes, he is my sweet treasure. :)

    1. Strong willed sure isn't confined to the preschool years, is it?? You are a constant encouragement to me. Love you!!

  2. Oh my land... YES! Logan is my strong-willed boy and he and I have had our share of struggles. It took him 'til closer to age 5 until he and I started having less battles. We still have our moments, for sure, but he LOVES to help and be a big boy, strong and special. I have found his love language and am getting much better at speaking it.

    1. It's a worth struggle, isn't it? Especially when you start to get glimpses of that strength being a powerful force for goodness.

  3. Made me cry. I love you and that big little boy so much.

  4. Excellent blog, Lori. I think it's rather humorous that God chose to gift Bryce and I with our adorable strong-willed two year old at our age (through adoption). We have certainly met our match in Keziah! Thank you for the encouragement and the helpful tip reminders!

    1. How do such small bodies contain such big challenges?? You guys are amazing to continue facing that challenge one child at a time. Thanks for what you're doing!

  5. Tears, again! I have a child like that. This is very encouraging to me. To know that Trevor was like that and I look at him and see a really great guy! And to know that I'm not the only one to get so frustrated and "squeeze shoulders" (although, I can't ever picture you EVER getting mad! haha) sigh. Sometimes, a lot of times, I wish I could just go back and do better! Thanks Lori :)

  6. As i read this, i laughed and i cried because this is my life! its so comforting to know that a mom i look up to, has also struggled with a strong-willed child, and i am not alone in my struggles. thank you for being transparent in your writing, so that you can be an encouragement to other moms.

  7. I'm loving this series. Such wisdom! I discovered the same magic response when you give your child a choice. I gave my strong-willed daughter choices between this and that. It worked - no more fits. She felt empowered. God faithfully guides us through our weaknesses. He entrusted us, as parents, with a strong-willed child and He holds the keys to their hearts. We seek Him and He provides all we need. Thank you, Lori!


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