“The apple doesn’t fall far,” my husband will chuckle to me after a power struggle with our 4-year-old going on 35-year-old. I sigh. “It’s not my fault.” He just looks at me. “Ok, maybe it’s my fault, but it’s not my fault!” And it’s not. I didn’t teach her to be a control freak… I didn’t have to. Just like I didn’t have to teach her how to be affectionate, sensitive, or the most compassionate child I’ve ever met. These things happen naturally; they are apart of her God-given character. However, just like any other strong qualities, they need to be shaped and guided to reach their full potential.
“I can’t wait to be the boss,” she’ll admit to me meekly almost on a weekly basis. She understands she’s not the boss right now, but someday she’ll have her own family and children and it will be her turn to be the mom. In her mind, she wishes it was tomorrow. From my view, however, we have a lot of work to do before this Little Miss will be ready to lead and direct, not obsess over and control. I’ve never done this before, and I don’t know how it will turn out, but so far in our journey, here are a few ways we’ve worked to mold her natural tendencies into God-given qualities.
❤ Acknowledge the Desire
She’s a natural-born leader. Or just naturally bossy. Either way, good or bad, so am I, and it’s given me a great skill-set to use both in my career and my home life over the years! We try to encourage her to take initiative and praise her when she can put the pieces of a situation together in her little mind and declare a solution. Nothing warms my heart like sneaking up on her playroom to eves-drop and hearing her say to her babies, ‘Ok, now it’s time to brush teeth and get into bed… no, you can’t have 5 books in your bed… obey the first time or you will lose a privilege.’ She was created to lead, direct, instruct and teach – all amazing qualities. It’s important that we teach her they are good qualities to be developed, not squelched.
❤ Teach Self-Control
Perhaps the most valuable fruit of the Spirit in today’s society that is so painfully sparse, self-control is a key skill. It is so important that we teach our kids how to control what they think, feel, say and do. We’ve been teaching self-control ever since she was old enough to understand that ‘no’ means ‘no’, but it’s taken on a new look now that we’re trying to mold her character, not just change her behavior. (Did you catch that? There’s a difference…) Reminding her that she has the power to make a good choice helps her feel in control of the things she’s supposed to control: herself. It also teaches her how to submit to authority, another rare quality in today’s world.
❤ Give Opportunities to Grow
Once you’ve set the boundaries of what is and isn’t ok, give them a chance to succeed. I delve out tasks to her on a daily basis and let her decide the best way to accomplish them. When she asks what she should do I usually deflect the first time, telling her that it’s her choice and she can do what she thinks is best. If she pushes for direction I give a couple of suggestions, but ultimately make sure she has the opportunity to use her developing critical thinking skills. If her course of action doesn’t turn the results she was looking for (like the time she decided to put all her toys away quickly by loading up with one trip that inevitably led to a huge crash as she rushed down the hall…), I try to use it as a teaching moment without criticizing her decision. I want her to have a humble, teachable spirit, but I don’t want to squelch that natural inclination she has to figure things out for herself. It’s a delicate balance, but with God’s grace we’re finding it day by day.
Last but not least, here are a few things we’ve learned to avoid…
Don’t let her control the family. She started a game a while back where she would tell us what to say in response to the statement she was about to say/something she was about to do (when I come in say, ‘what a beautiful princess!’). This seemed innocent enough until it was happening every day, about everything. “Mommy say, “Sweetie would you like chips for lunch?” Ummm…. no. Mommy’s not going to offer you chips for lunch.
Don’t put her in positions where she might be tempted. I realized this during a play date with a younger friend. She was on him for every little thing, telling him ‘no’, taking toys away that she deemed too old for him, and tattle-tailing on him to his mom every two seconds. I had to become more deliberate in supervising and make sure to remind her not to be bossy, while keeping a closer eye on the playmate and not putting her in the position where she was tempted to be a rule-enforcer.
Don’t discuss her control struggle in front of her. Whether it’s with your spouse or friends, don’t talk about your kids in front of them unless it’s to positively affirm them. They hear everything and they are smart. Nothing does as much damage to a little, growing person than to hear the person they love most in the world say something negative about them. This is a big one, moms – we are the number one voice in our kids lives. Let’s be their biggest cheerleader in public, and use gentleness and kindness when correcting. I don’t want my kids to ever hear me expose their faults, failures, or bad choices. It’s ok to vent and ask for help, but make sure they’re safely unaware.
Don’t forget where she comes from. She’s – most likely – a little, minnie you! She adores you, wants to be just like you, and does her very best to mimic your every move. So when you see yourself in that defiant little frown with her hands on her hips, take a breath and respond in love. We have such an amazing opportunity, training up these little people! Let’s do our very best.
If you find yourself in a similar boat as me, I hope this has been encouraging! I can’t wait to see the amazing little spit-fire my baby girl is going to be someday; I just want to make sure I’ve trained her to temper her strongest qualities so that they can be used to their fullest potential.