I've had a few tricky kids. Really, when you have a lot of children, you're likely to get a little bit of everything. Thankfully, the ones that have consistently pushed my buttons are but a couple. Or one, really. And that child is smart, funny, gifted, tenacious, and growing in grace.
Recently one of you sweet moms wrote the following to me:
"My struggle is with my middle child. She is five and has been hard since she was born. She constantly bumps against the line to see what I will do. It is exhausting. Some days I feel like I spank her all day because she will flat out say, 'I'm not doing that.' I can plan fun things for her to do with my almost-three-year old.
Many times even if its fun she says, 'I don't want to do that.' At lunch if it's not what she wants she'll say she's not gonna eat. I don't coddle that; I throw her food away and tell her I'll see her at dinner. Then the absolute fit starts. Then I might spank her or send her to bed, but she'll still do the same thing next time I serve something I don't like.
Some days she is like this all day long. I don't know what to do to change that combative spirit. My oldest son hit a rough patch at three but it didn't last long. My almost-three-year-old is laid back. But my battles with my 5-year-old wear me out. There are many days I have headaches just dealing with her and trying to remain in control of my emotions. Help! Ideas?"
I get it. Really, I do. Been there and am still doing that some days. So, a couple of thoughts:
1. She's got your number, Mom. As long as you have an emotional stake in her behavior, she's going to capitalize on it. She's a smart cookie! Take away the emotional responses on any level (frustration, anger, bargaining, cajoling) and she'll be diffused. But stand your ground! She might not respond immediately to a change in your reaction, and it might get worse before it gets better.
2. Keep your head in the game. With tricky kids who like to push all the buttons, you can't be off your guard for a second. Keep your button-pushing radar on and remember to respond very matter-of-factly. No emotional responses.
3. Change your game plan if necessary. Coupled with a wash of grace over our home, I have a brain-injured 5-year-old who needs a completely different parenting approach. What is working here is consistency, kindness, acknowledging sin and pointing us all back to Jesus. Spanking is reserved for dangerous behavior - defiance that is life-threatening, such as hanging body parts out the second-story window after being told not to open those windows at all.
I'm not writing a discipline prescription for your family; I'm just telling you what's working here. What I have in spades in this season of my life is the hindsight that 21 years of parenting 8 people brings. That hindsight includes the wary fact that parenting techniques are just that: techniques. Tools. They will help change behavior, but they won't transform a heart like grace will. Grace wins! Use whatever techniques work for you and your daughter, but lavishly pour grace out over her and you.
The books that have helped us use non-emotional tools and tips are 1-2-3 Magic (especially helpful with our brain-damaged guy), Teen-Proofing: Fostering Responsible Decision Making in Your Teenager, and Give Them Grace.
But they're just books. Tools. Our only real hope is Jesus! Ask Him for wisdom and He will give it liberally. I promise. He promises!