Imagine there is a person of authority who orders you around - “Finish this work right now!”, “You must get the house in order”, “You better come back early!”. You are not given any choices. Your feelings or needs are not important. You just must obey.
How would you feel?
You may feel defensive, resentful and angry. You will resist. You will react. You would probably not feel like talking or cooperating with that person.
Ordering or commanding has the same effect on children.
Why do children resist commands?
Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a developmental psychologist, and author of the book, ‘Hold on to your kids’, states that all human beings have within themselves a COUNTERWILL instinct – a defensive reaction to resist being controlled or made to do something against their will. It is activated most strongly at two stages in our development when we need it the most; in the toddler period and in the teen years since both are periods when we are working hard to form our personality and achieve independence.
Therefore, when a parent says,“Take your bath right now!”, “Go to bed!”, “Eat everything on your plate.”, “Clear your room before you watch TV!”, “Finish your homework, or else you cannot play.”,it makes the child feel resentful and defiant, frequently causing them to express angry feelings. Our 2- year old may react with a “No!”. Infact very often that's the first word they learn to say! Our 8- year old may say, “You aren’t my boss.” It could cause them to throw a tantrum or fight back. The teenager may turn their back and slam the door! As the child refuses to cooperate, the parent becomes louder and more demanding. This makes the child more determined to remain in control. When the parent uses punishments such as shouting, threatening, withdrawal of privileges, hitting, or bribing, the child’s counter will is stimulated even more which increases the power struggle. We then think that the child is being stubborn, naughty, irresponsible, lazy or not motivated.
Let them make choices
Most of the time, children feel helpless because they have so little control over their own lives. Hence, it is important to find ways in which they can assert their opinions and make choices. As very young children start to build their sense of autonomy, the choices given can be limited. Even a 2-year old feels thrilled when given the choice of drinking milk from the blue or red cup.
For young children choices could be limited - “Do you want to have a bath now or before going to bed?”, “Do you want idli or dosa for breakfast?”, “What do you want to wear- the blue or yellow dress?”
Older children can choose from more options or come up with their own choice that would be acceptable to all - “Looks like the homework is a lot. Would you like to start on it immediately or after having a snack or after play?” ,
“Seems like you are feeling overwhelmed about cleaning the room…when do want to do it, would you like me to help you or do you want to do it in parts?”
With teenagers you could ask them for solutions- “I want you to do an extracurricular activity- You can choose what you like best.
Looks like you are finding physics difficult. Would you like me to sit with you or would you prefer to go for tuition? What would help you?
“I need to finish office work without disturbance of the music. What would you like to do?” The teenager may decide, “I’ll put my earphones on.”
Making choices gives children valuable practice in making decisions. They feel confident to take up responsibilities. It helps develop their logical and rational brain. As they become adults, they are more equipped to make decisions regarding their college, career, lifestyle, life partner and in other areas of their lives. Most importantly, when they feel respected and trusted, they feel connected to their parents and are willing to listen and cooperate.
Author: Sujata Dewaji is a certified parent Educator with Parenting Matters, an organisation that promotes parents to build deeper connections within families