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tantrums

No, I Don’t Have to Tame My Wild Child

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My 4-year-old’s socks never match. She’s left the house in one teal sock and one yellow, while wearing an orange striped dress. Some days, she looks like a miniature Punky Brewster, and at this point, it is fine with me. I am learning to pick my battles.

As a baby, my daughter’s nap schedule was ironclad. She still does best with the same, precise daily routine. This includes everything–especially what she eats. If given the opportunity, she’d sustain life solely on pizza, sunbutter sandwiches, and yogurt smoothies. She hates new foods, though my husband is more successful than I am at getting her to try.

Showers and bedtime require long negotiations… and the occasional bribe.

She is always in constant motion: jumping, running, and climbing. Some nights, it’s an hour or more until she settles, with her arms and legs spread out, like a starfish. Even in sleep, she moves. I think she dances in her dreams.

At 4, my kid’s tantrums can still be epic–no matter that the causes are usually small: Her cheese slices were cut in half. Favored pajamas were in the wash. She rubbed her eyes, clearly exhausted, so her father and I tried to put her to bed. I put a clip in her hair that wasn’t purple. It all ends the same: with her red-faced and screaming, “NO!”

We’ve been mostly successful at redirecting her, or finding alternate solutions. But I lose my patience more often than I’d like. Normally, I’d read a book, or ask a friend what to do. But everything I initially found was all about “taming” my wild child. That felt wrong. I wanted to understand her, not break her. Then, in a frustration-induced late-night Google search, I came across this quote, which made me feel slightly better:

“Their intensity means that they react to limits and boundaries with hurricane force, but they do settle into acceptance. And they get better as they age on toning down their displays of anger and frustration. The persistence characteristic is where they really shine as older children. When others give up, they keep going.”

“Yes!” I thought. It was a relief to finally read something written by someone who seemed to understand my daughter’s behavior–or at least, shared my point of view. I wouldn’t change my child’s personality, even if I could. There are too many good things about my spirited daughter to wish that she were any different.

I admire her stubbornness. I am proud of it, and I truly hope it sticks. No one will ever push my girl into anything she does not want to do. And she is certainly persistent. She doesn’t have much regard for obstacles; my daughter just plows right through.

She is smart, and learns everything fast. She inherited my husband’s math brain and my love of books. She always tries hard. Her retention is amazing.

When they’re in a crowd of other children, my firstborn is fiercely protective of my 2-year-old. At their joint birthday party last week, my toddler struggled to climb into a chair near her sister. An older child saw this, and tried to claim it first. Before I could intervene, my 4-year-old quickly jumped in. “You can’t have that seat,” she told her classmate sternly. “That one was for my little sister. She sits next to me.”

She is also affectionate and sweet. I showed her how to say, “I love you,” in sign language. She patiently tries to teach her sister how to properly fold her fingers, so the toddler can do it, too. She asks my husband and me for extra hugs. When she wakes early on weekend mornings, she climbs into our bed. She loves to snuggle.

She is also a good friend. She knows how to draw a shy classmate into group games. She can calm an energetic buddy. She and my friends’ children play nicely on the playground; they even take turns on the slide. She helps her sister learn different colors and sing the ABCs.

I’m trying to teach myself how to be the mother she needs. I hope to help her harness her awesome energy. I want to show her how to keep her temper in check. I want to cultivate her independence, though it is hard for me; it means I have to give up some control. Parenting is a skill that requires ongoing effort, and I am still a work in progress. I know I will make mistakes. I will fight with my daughter (sometimes) and fight for her (always). But it is no coincidence that her birthday falls immediately after Thanksgiving; that birth date was handpicked for me. I am reminded that her spirited soul is a blessing. For my daughter, I will always be grateful.


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