I’ve been struck lately at how futilely we try to force our children to do what we want them to do without our learning the obvious lesson. We can say that our child has a mind of her own, but we can’t seem to really get it, and so we continue to try to coerce our child to say hello to our friend, wave bye bye, take a nap, go to sleep, get dressed in a reasonable time, smile for a photograph – the list is endless and so is the lesson.
Children are born with many powers of the mind. One of them is the “will.” It is their will, it belongs to them, they direct it, they control it. We can try to force our children’s will, we can try to scare them so they yield their will, we can try to coax them or even bribe them and get some success. But we will never get anywhere with the power of a child’s will until we stop trying to engage it and recognize that it is the child who has this power.
What then can we do to create a congenial household with cooperative children instead of producing a child tyrant? We can make the child’s will our ally. There are lots of ways of doing this, but we’re not very good at most of them, so we need a lot of practice. First, practice disengaging; don’t get into power struggles. Admit out loud to your child when you’re wrong. Agree with your child. Support and validate her feelings. Offer choices to him so he can feel the power of choosing. Ask his opinion. Ask her to teach you how to do something. Realize that you don’t need to get your way 100% of the time. Learn to negotiate win/win solutions so you both feel like you got what you wanted. Don’t tell him what to do to solve his problem; don’t tell her what you’d do if you were she. Instead ask her if she wants any suggestions and respect her answer, especially if she says, “No, thank you.” Commiserate with her without telling her how you’d respond. Listen. Resist the temptation to judge, to lecture, and to criticize. Those just give children reasons to defend themselves. Never discuss with others your child’s behavior within their earshot. Don’t offer explanations to others to account for why your child isn’t doing what you want her to do, things like, “Oh, she’s shy.” The reason she isn’t talking is that she has a will and she is willing herself not to talk. By judging your child, you’re being disrespectful of her. Model the behavior you hope to receive.
Our children are who they are and part of who they are is their will. Work with this will and reap the benefits. Otherwise, wring your hands. It’s up to you.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher