Why is it that when we ask something, even tiny, of our child we are met with instant opposition and rebellion?
This was the much anticipated topic of last week’s Gaia Gang. Counterwill, every child’s instinctive reaction to disobey when they feel coerced, thwarts our patience across homes and schools all through the territories of parenting and teaching.
Several of you have noticed that we adults suffer from Counterwill too.
Counterwill arises from a deep human instinct to do the opposite of that which is expected, to resist, talk back, break the rules, argue, disobey, be belligerent, non compliant and defiant. So Counterwill is simply a defensive reaction to perceived control and coercion.
We see counterwill arise with the baby’s first words which so often include ‘No!’
There is reason within the seeming annoyance of Counterwill. This negative instinct serves to protect the child from outside influence and direction. So a child raised by the tribe is loyal only to the tribe, and Counterwill shields this child from strangers.
Think of a moment your child reacted positively to your demand, and followed your request. Children naturally want to be good when they feel close and connected to us. The need surpassing all others for little ones is to feel attached. Then the child is receptive and no longer feels the expectations upon them.
Counterwill naturally shows up so often in the times when children don’t feel attached to us and to teachers. Then obligations, commands, demands, pressure and forcefulness simply lead to resistance.
The most hideous moments I recall of Counterwill was following the birth of a sibling, when my eldest lost feeling attached to me and everything was rebellion.
Back in the days of our tribe, children felt attached to many adults since they were raised collectively. One of our great challenges today is that we raise our children independently, as well as working and performing all our other responsibilities.
The seven solutions that follow are designed fit for modern mothers to develop attachment and reduce coertion.
Seven Ways to Thwart Counterwill
1. Disguise Your Agenda
Moving the children through the morning and evening routine can be heartache. I found even getting them to the bathroom some days was torturous.
When we drop our agenda children have no inkling of our necessary demands and staged routine, and a freedom emerges. In this space children will climb the stairs or brush their teeth willingly since they feel no pressure.
To gain compliance without forceful directions, we simply give an age appropriate choice that leads the child into the next activity.
So for example instead of announcing it’s time to go to the bathroom, we might say do you want to take x or y into the bath tonightor if he is not moving; do you want to fly or sail towards the bathroom and have him climb aboard your imaginary ship or aircraft. Leading the way with lightness is a sure way to cooperation.
2. Small Talk
We adults rarely dive into giving instructions and following suit. Naturally the work of our meetings is preceded by small talk. This preamble gives a chance to grow connection, build bridges and gain willing participation.
And so it is for our children, we need collect their minds and hearts before we dive into requests and demands. When they are busy at play, their focus is only here.
We must crouch down, find eye contact and a smile, share a resonance with them and their activity before directing to the next. This may be through a comment, or a stroke, or a spoken understanding of how fun this is, before we set the expectation that supper is ready.
Being task driven, I know how the agenda overtakes and we easily lose these moments to collect our children.
Yet it is in these tiny spaces that we can make leaps in building our closeness and attachment to our children. It is in these spaces we prevent meltdowns and gain cooperation before the nothing is right rocket launches.
Use the moment when your child first awakes, to try this.
3. Describe Instead of Demand
Since Counterwill relies upon feeling controlled, we can diffuse the stormy reaction by altering our refrains.
When we drop the commanding and prescriptive tone and bring more warmth and fun into our voice, we gain joyful willingness in our children.
Before placing orders, describe the mess you see or the lonely pajamas on the floor.
4. Take A Break
Often when Counterwill is in full force, and even though we may be still holding our expectation or limit with warmth, our child does not budge. She does not cry, she simply storms a persistant opposite to that which you desire.
Then back off, have the breakfast, change the subject. When you return to the matter, retain your consistent limit or expectation with tolerance. She will be more ameniable to meeting your request and may even find a happy solution herself.
A child naturally wants to be fully right and have her way. At the same time she only really wants to please you.
Sometimes we have to find a way to meet their stubbornness and respect their dignity. Sometimes we have to think outside of the black and white demand and allow more room for our child’s solving of the problem.
5. Routine & Responsibility
Routines give a consistent reinforcement of the way we do things, which helps children know how to behave.
I found that no sooner had I drawn up the morning and bedtime routine (see my illustration at the start), my children referred to and performed the stages far more willingly.
We can take this one step further and show belief in our children by giving them responsibility for a certain area. Then they feel willing and eager to rise to take charge of their remit.
Examples of areas of responsibility could be through a tidy up rota, a gardening plot, table laying, breakfast ready. The key feels to really big up your child in being ready to perform this important task.
6. See Through Resistance
Notice when and where your strong willed child’s resistance is most apparent. For me, putting on her coat before leaving for school was often met with resistance. No coat was ever right. Infact what was happening beneath the opposition, was the anxiety about going to nursery school masquerading as defiance.
Once you recognize the vulnerable feelings beneath the forceful exterior, it is easier to hold the limit or expectation with a firm yet caring tone.
We are here to love and look after our children, to make sure they are safe. We can maintain these claims when they desire the most inappropriate outerware as we are only holding the limit because we care.
Fustration and anxiety are often behind relentless opposition in children. Play is the antidote especially of the physical, rough kind of play where your child takes the lead and trusts you are keeping her safe. Genuine laughter dissolves the feelings of irritation and worry and clears the will to cooperate.
Remember that Counterwill is normal. Don’t take the comments of Counterwill personally. When we recognise and name our child’s reaction as that of Counterwill, then we can strive to react with more patience and tolerance.
Finally, I encourage you to tolerate some Counterwill since when a child feels forced but doesn’t fight back, then their will is suppressed and people pleasing prevails over hiding resentment and unmet needs.
We can bring more understanding of Counterwill for willful cooperation and full emergence of our children.
I know how exasperating strong willed opposition from children is and my sincere hope is that some of this will help you. I would love to hear if you have any questions, and what is working or not working for you.
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