Raising our children with love and respect requires us to take on a role that might not come naturally: leadership. Without the security of unflappable, empathic leaders, children are less able to focus on the work they need to do – growing, developing, playing, exploring, and ultimately, flourishing as self-confident, content, successful people.
One of the not-so-fun duties of our leadership is handling our children’s age-appropriate resistance and defiance. In my work with parents and toddlers, I give a lot of thought to figuring out how parents can approach this challenge more easily and effectively. One of the best tools I’ve come up with recently is confident momentum.
Confident momentum has nothing to do with speed or rushing. It’s a positive, sometimes heroic kind of energy, an I-can-do-this-thing attitude of helpfulness that stems from the understanding that it’s perfectly normal for young children to stall, resist, and test limits. This is particularly true during transitions of any kind or whenever they’re experiencing uncomfortable emotions or stress, tiredness or overstimulation. It is in those situations that confident momentum is most helpful and respectful.
Confident momentum means coming in (not on) strong, the way athletes do as they wind up for a pitch, or swing a bat, racket or golf club. We’re prepared for the likelihood of resistance and will meet it with positive action. Acting as if helps us find our groove. It gets more comfortable and fluid with practice.
Confident momentum overrides struggles while we fully accept and validate them. So as we gently but firmly take our child’s hand or carry him or her out the door, we acknowledge, “Ah, it’s time to go, but you don’t want to leave the party. You wanted to stay and play. That’s such a bummer!”
Confident momentum is decisive and prevents power struggles from taking hold. Fueled by confidence, we won’t need as much physical strength as we do when we unwittingly create a stand-off by being tentative or asking more than once (and then getting angry or annoyed). Our momentum is even more important if we have personal physical issues or very strong children. I recently did a home consultation with a single parent whose back issues had made her afraid to set limits and be decisive with her toddler. I was able to demonstrate confident momentum for her, showing her how, with a fearless, focused attitude, she could guide him by simply placing her hands on his shoulders. Within a day or two, her boy went from resisting every step of his bedtime routine to rarely resisting at all. He could relax into her leadership and was getting the nurturing he needed.
It can be really tough to remember how emotionally immature children are because they can be so impressively intelligent, capable, and aware. When they seem deliberately bratty or downright mean, we’ll need to remind ourselves: These are tiny people with incredibly low impulse control who are very easily overwhelmed. In the moment, it may feel like our kids are out to get us, but it is actually that their impulses have gotten the better of them. They know they’re not pleasing us. What they don’t know is why. In fact, we’re more likely to understand what’s going on with them than they are. There are always reasons.
Confident momentum gives children the comforting message that we understand rather than judge them, and that they can count on us to happily help them whenever they can’t seem to help themselves. We can do this.
I share more detailed explanations, and examples in this episode of my respectful parenting podcast series: