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#96 Inconsistency: A Powerful Tool With Strong-Willed Children

Season #2

So much of parenting is finding what works for you and your family, even if it means coloring outside the lines every now and then. Welcome to episode number 96 of The 3D Parent Podcast! Today, we're tackling a topic that might raise a few eyebrows: "Inconsistent Parenting.” We've all been told that consistency is the holy grail of effective discipline, right? But let's take a step back and really think about what consistency means in the context of parenting. We're not talking about your everyday routines like bedtime or mealtime (though those are important too!). No, we're diving deeper into those unpredictable moments where you've gotta think on your feet and make decisions that are best for your strong-willed child.

Here are the main topics we’ll cover in this episode:

  • Necessary Consistency: Your Role: Being the “Nurturing Alpha” 
  • Special Discipline Considerations when Parenting Strong-willed Kids
  • 3 Strategies Which Leverage Inconsistency as an Effective Parenting Approach 

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In today's episode, we're flipping the script and taking a closer look at the concept of inconsistency in parenting. But don’t worry! We're not talking about throwing routines out the window. Those everyday rituals like bedtime, mealtime, and screen time– they're important for keeping the peace and giving our kids a sense of security. What we're talking about here are those moments when you find yourself making decisions based on your child's current needs.

While traditional parenting wisdom often emphasizes consistency as the holy grail of effective discipline, those of us with spirited  children know that it's not always that simple. Strong-willed children are characterized by their independence, determination, brightness, and spirited nature. They have a knack for pushing boundaries, questioning authority, and asserting their own opinions from a young age. While these traits can be challenging to navigate as parents, they also come with a host of positive attributes, such as resilience, creativity, and a strong sense of self. It's important to recognize that these children aren't being defiant or difficult on purpose – they're simply wired to march to the beat of their own drum.

What Requires Consistency?
At the heart of effective parenting lies embodying the role of a "nurturing alpha" – a 3D Parent concept that emphasizes the importance of both relational attunement and sturdy leadership. For parents of strong-willed children, fostering a secure attachment becomes even more crucial as it provides an essential foundation for navigating the complexities of their spirited nature.

Research has consistently shown that children who feel securely attached to their caregivers exhibit fewer oppositional behaviors. This alone underscores the importance of investing time and effort into nurturing the relationship with our strong-willed children. By providing a safe haven for our children to express themselves, we can significantly decrease instances of defiance and opposition.

In addition to nurturing the attachment with our children, it's equally important to embrace the alpha aspect of the nurturing alpha role. This means consistently showing up as the strong leader of our children – guiding, teaching, and leading our children rather than coercing or attempting to control them. 

One aspect of consistency that often gets overlooked is our ability to attune to the current needs of our child and making adjustments as needed. While some may view this as inconsistency, it's actually a vital part of responsive parenting. As Dr. Laura Markham aptly puts it, “Effective parenting is not about blindly following rules or routines but being responsive to the unique needs of each child.” This means being willing to reassess and pivot our parenting decisions based on new information or changing circumstances.

Common Parenting Tactics that Commonly Backfire With Strong-willed Children:

  • Offering Choices- For strong-willed children, offering choices can feel like an invitation to a power struggle. Instead of feeling empowered, these children see it as an attempt to control and coerce. 
  • 3-2-1 countdowns- The idea is simple: you give your child a countdown from three to one, and if they haven't complied with your request by the time you reach one, there are consequences. Why do these techniques backfire more often than not with our strong-willed kids? These kids see through the facade of authority and aren't afraid to challenge it. They want to feel respected and heard, not manipulated into compliance with empty threats and countdowns. 
  • Asking kids to make decisions- “What do you want to do today?" "What do you  want to eat for breakfast?"  “ What do you want to do after school?” Those seemingly innocent questions can actually backfire big time with our strong-willed children. Why? Because these children have an innate sense of independence and a knack for seeing through manipulative parenting, so they naturally resist it. Additionally, when we ask them to make decisions, it can actually promote more of that strong-willed alpha energy we're trying to tone down. Now, I'm not saying we should never ask our kids for their input or opinions. After all, fostering open communication and encouraging autonomy are important aspects of parenting. 

Challenges of Blind Consistency

Insisting on consistency in discipline solely for the sake of consistency can be particularly problematic for parents of strong-willed children. As already stated, these children thrive on independence and may push back against rules and regulations that feel arbitrary or stifling. Dr. Dan Siegel, a renowned psychiatrist, cautions against rigidity in parenting, stating, "Rigidity in parenting can undermine the parent-child relationship and impede the child's emotional development."

Even worse, persisting with discipline strategies that are clearly ineffective can increase tension and conflict within the parent-child relationship. Dr. Ross Greene, a clinical psychologist and author, emphasizes the importance of abandoning strategies that fail to align with a child's needs, stating, "The goal of discipline is not blind obedience but teaching problem-solving skills and fostering a healthy parent-child relationship."

Three Inconsistent Approaches in Parenting 

In addition to fostering secure attachment and flexibility, parents of strong-willed children can benefit from introducing elements of unpredictability to their parenting, such as novelty, playfulness, and disorientation to engage these children's spirited natures and foster a deeper connection. Here’s more on how to use these approaches:

1. Novelty:

Novelty can be an effective strategy for parenting because it invigorates the parent-child relationship, stimulates curiosity, and turns on a child’s instincts to orient to their parents. Moreover, incorporating novelty into parenting fosters a sense of spontaneity and joy, creating lasting memories and strengthening the bond between parent and child. 

  • The Element of Surprise: Introduce a sense of excitement by hinting at something fun and new once teeth are brushed and pajamas are on, even if you haven't figured out what that exciting thing is yet.
  • Mix it Up: From impromptu dance parties to shadow dancing with flashlights, embrace spontaneity and create lasting memories with your child. Try something new every few days to capitalize on this effective tool.

2. Playfulness:

One of the best ways to "connect before direct," this approach emphasizes building a connection with your child before giving directions or making a transition. It could be as simple as turning a mundane task like putting on shoes into a silly game where you pretend to instruct your child to put their shoes on their ears instead of their feet. By infusing humor and play into everyday tasks, you not only make them more enjoyable for your child but also strengthen your bond in the process.

  • Turn Mundane Tasks into Opportunities for Imaginative Play or Games: Some examples might be pretending to be mother and baby bears climbing the stairs or challenging your child with a game of "I Spy" while cleaning up.
  • Humor as a Response to Opposition: Respond to your child's "no's" with humor and playfulness, turning moments of resistance into playful interactions that foster connection.

3. Disorientation:

Sometimes, throwing our kids off their game can be just the thing we need to break through their stubborn streak. By introducing elements of disorientation into our parenting approach, we can disrupt entrenched patterns of oppositional behavior and prompt our children to recalibrate their attention towards us.

  • Change of Environment: Take your child to a new park, unfamiliar locations, or get out of town to disrupt entrenched patterns of alpha behaviors. Getting kids out of their typical environments primes them to orient towards you.
  • Occasionally, Delay Your Responses and/or Decisions: Respond to questions or requests with non-committal or delayed answers like, "maybe," or, "I'll have to think about that," keeping your child on their toes and keeping them looking to you for direction. 
  • Unexpected Acts of Kindness: Parents can disorient their children by incorporating occasional, unexpected random acts of kindness. This could involve surprising them at school with a treat, taking them out on a lunch date, giving them a small gift for no particular reason, or even completing one of their chores as a gesture of kindness.


So, the next time you find yourself repeatedly butting heads with your strong-willed child, take a step back and ask yourself: am I being too rigid? Am I sticking to rules just for the sake of consistency? Am I focusing on obedience rather than on connection? If so, perhaps some inconsistent approaches as mentioned in this episode will be worth a try to turn things around. 

Thank you for tuning in! If you learned a lot from this episode, please share it with a friend!

Episode Resources:
Dr. Ross Green Book: The Explosive Child