Surviving Outings With Strong-Willed Kids

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We have two strong-willed kids. Four years apart. Different genders. One is tall, while one is a Hobbit. A verbose kindergartner-to-be and his sidekick, the jabbering/signing 20-month-old. Both require constant physical contact from mom and dad. They act like one force most of their days. Whether we are home, at a doctor’s office, celebrating someone, or just running errands, they are exerting their wills.

We made so many mistakes with Graham. We have become better at parenting the out-of-the-box, sensitive, stubborn, creative, smart, and backtalking child. That’s what we tell ourselves in the hopes that it will stick. Some days, we actually believe it.

But there is one place where we know we have improved our parenting: outings. We used to dread outings with our oldest. He would meltdown most times. We would have no idea what to do with him. Dave and I looking at each other like two people who fell into a cheetah exhibit at the zoo.

Now, we have two killer cats. And we love them more than we even imagined we could. But life is still tough. We pray that the parts of their personalities now unredeemed and difficult beyond comprehension, will be powerfully amazing traits when they are older and serving the Lord. As their mom, I can see how their strength and outspokenness and a love of justice will be credits to themselves and their families. But now, I am mostly focusing on getting to bedtime with a semblance of joy in this house.

How do we survive outings with two strong-willed children?

1. Ask Questions. Is this a first-time experience? Do they need to go? What are they getting from this outing? Will they be hungry? Tired? Overwhelmed? Will there be people there we know they don’t gel with? How did they do last time? What changes need to be made? Are we being realistic or expecting way too much from them? When we answer these questions, we find it’s easier to not end the day crying into a handful of Tootsie Rolls.

2. Pack Supplies. We always have a change of clothes for our son. Sometimes he can’t get to the bathroom in time. Or he chooses not to go in time. Either way, he needs clothes. We pack snacks. The moment Bess is hungry, she starts to fall apart. Since she no longer nurses, I can’t help her recover as easily. We always have a carrier, which can help calm Bess if she gets upset by other factors.

3. Rehearse. Before we go anywhere, even into Aldi, we go over all the pertinent info. How we behave, what our consequences will be if we make poor choices, things that could happen, and how/when we leave. Graham doesn’t like surprises, so this has revolutionized his ability to make it through an appointment, party, or shopping trip without turning into The Hulk. 

4. Choose Your Battles. While we are out, Dave and I have a mental list of the things we will slide a bit on and the things that we cannot budge on at all. We stay united in our expectations and discipline. Unless we need to change something up…then we have a mini-meeting. We know even if everything goes south, we can keep our emotions in check, buy a Coke Zero, and make-out after it’s all over.

5. Plan Your Exit. Yes, we always have an exit plan. We have left places with Graham screaming and crying in a fireman’s carry. We have left playdates early. We’ve left Grandma’s house after being there only 20 minutes. Sometimes, even with steps 1-4 executed nicely, we still need to abandon an outing. Knowing that it’s okay to say, “We just need to leave right now.” frees us up as parents to do what needs to be done. It doesn’t mean we failed. It actually means we succeeded, because we removed our children from an escalating situation. Do I still cry in the van? Sometimes. But other times we just move on and make notes for the next time.

None of this is new. Parents have been using these strategies for centuries. But we have been parents for a little more than half a decade, so it’s all pretty life-changing to us. We practically found every excuse to get out of outings as a family of three. We started having a mixed bag of success and embarrassment when we became a family of four. And now, as a family of five, I don’t break out in hives when we receive a birthday invitation. Or when I know I will be solo parenting on a medical visit.

What are your tips for going out with strong-willed kiddos? Please share your sage advice in the comments…

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