Overcoming Obstacles with Kind Words, Gentle Hands and Listening Ears

Life with Norton has, in some ways, gotten harder.  He’s more defiant than ever.  He still uses “I peed in my room!” as an excuse not to go to bed or wherever else.  But things were out of control.  There was a lot of yelling, temper tantrums, throwing things, tears, and hitting.  Counting to three had ceased to help.  Threats of spankings were the only thing that made any impact… and even that was beginning to fade.  I knew I needed to figure out overcoming obstacles like these in a really big way.  Our little family was in trouble.

Overcoming Obstacles with Kind Words, Gentle Hands and Listening EarsNo one was happy.  Not me, who ended up spending the day screaming and miserable over constant defiance.  Not Eudora, who had started covering her ears and hiding her face whenever Norton started to melt down.  Not my husband, who came home to find that I was completely done with everything and just needed to shut down, came home to a war zone that he had to try to manage after walking in the door from his own high stress job.  And certainly not Norton, who was at the very center of the maelstrom swirling around our home.

I was reading on Facebook while getting ready for the latest battles of the day to begin.  There was talk of toddler discipline and annoyance with ineffective parents just saying “Use gentle hands” without bothering to model the behavior for their young toddlers.

Then a light bulb came on.

That morning, as per usual, Norton got out of bed and was his usual sweet self.  (Mornings are our best time of day.)  He said, “Good morning, Mommy!” and sat down beside me.  We had our usual morning cuddles… which are the only peaceful time of day that I could almost always count on.  This time when he was snuggled up into my side with my arm around him, I suggested that we try a day full of only using kind words and gentle hands.

It worked.

If he yelled at Eudora or used bad manners, I reminded him about using kind words.  When he started being too rough, I reminded him about using gentle hands.  When things started getting rough because he was just being deliberately defiant, I’d asked him if he was using his listening ears.  He acknowledged that he was not… and I pointed out that when he does not use his listening ears, it makes it harder for Mommy to use kind words and gentle hands.

It slowed him down.

It calmed me down.

Eudora spent less time hiding or crying.

The husband came home to slightly less of a war zone.

This hasn’t, of course, resolved all of our issues.  Norton still has some behaviors to work on.  (Like growling and barking at other children, which seems to frighten them, and his doors and locks fixation.)  But still, it’s been helpful.  I’ll take any progress we can get.

Have you ever had to manage a strong willed child?  How did you gain cooperation?

About Suzi

Suzi is an American ex-pat living in British Columbia. She's a cloth diaper addict, wife, mom of three, and President of the Prince George chapter of Cloth for a Cause.


  1. It’s hard, but it does make sense that being proactive instead of reactive to our kids’ behaviour is more effective. And, offering the example of what is the appropriate behaviour to use, and setting that goal for the day, instead of just a list of what NOT to do helps kids know HOW to act instead of just how NOT to act.
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  2. THANK YOU FOR THIS! We are dealing with a child who is so strong willed. I will have to try this. Maybe I can get through to him. Thank you Suzi!
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  3. Yep my sweetie is the same way. Knee-Jerk NO followed by world war 3! For ODD children or if you’re even having those issues the basics can help in a BIG way.

    What sucks for me is that basically she has my personality, which I understand but I was COMPLETELY taught the wrong ways to deal with it. Either violence or medication, neither of which was the answers.

    So a learning process this certainly has become. At first I thought it was autism again since the scream sessions were so similar to my first but no. ODD with ADHD is the better fit. I know people don’t like the labels but honestly it helps to just know I need to do things differently. It helps to justify doing things differently to other. (You don’t spank ODD, it just makes them WORSE tends to work well) She doesn’t get away with things, I just react differently.

    As for potty training peer pressure & popsicles. Kids don’t realize the vicious cycle of drinking = more potty time. They just know that they get a popsicle for trying, eventually they figured it out. They liked popsicles! I liked not having bruises on MY arms for trying to bring her into the bathroom.

    I find a LOT of getting stuff under control is thinking outside the box. “Tough Love” doesn’t work in a house full of Titans & Amazons. Slowly the puppy is walking over to her for a few minutes. She doesn’t MEAN to hurt them, it just happens that way.

    ((HUGS)) Suzi, some of us DO get it.

  4. Great ideas! Thanks! I hope the progress has continued!

  5. I nannied for a family of three for several years, one of whom was and ODD kid. This is more or less EXACTLY what worked. We’d pick a goal for the week and focus mostly on that goal. If we felt like we accomplished that goal that week, I’d let him pick another goal to add on for the next week.

    We also used questions a lot: “are there toys on the floor?” rather than “pick up your toys,” or, “was that the best way to say that?” It took time– but goals and questions combined cut our struggles by more than half.

    Keep hanging on! I’m glad you’ve found something that gives you hope!

  6. My 2 year old daughter is quite strong willed and can be defiant at times. I like this idea and will have to use it next time! Thanks 🙂

  7. OMG we are so going through this! I won’t spank because I have bad memories of it from childhood but I’m really at wits end. I will try this approach with my little guy!

  8. I have 7 strong willed children and I’m learning everyday how to manage. I think it’s a learn as we go thing. I noticed each one is completely different in the areas where we butt heads or have our struggles. At the end of the day I wouldn’t want it any other way 🙂 It’s funny though some of the issues the kids have I see some adults are much worse 🙁
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  9. I have a child with ADHD, ODD and SPD, and since January we have been following the Feingold diet. It has been a lifesaver! I have a calm child… a 6yr old who actually will communicate with us properly, who can give me eye contact, who can play quietly and who doesn’t scream and tantrum all day long. It is a very strict diet, but it works! If you want to learn more about it, I suggest you go check it out.
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  10. You have NO idea how much I needed to read this. I just had this discussion with my defiant young man yesterday. Thankyou!

  11. I am so glad to hear that peaceful parenting techniques are working for you and Norton. While my family doesn’t spank and that works beautifully for our now 6, 8, 15 year old, we are having trouble with our 4 year old. She hits! Where did she learn this when no one else in the house hits? I am going to talk to her about soft hands and see what she thinks of it. My husband reminds me all our children have gone through this hard time and each time I end up asking him to remind me why we don’t spank. LOL
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  12. I am there right now too with my 6 year old. I think reacting calm with him works best.
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