Have you ever been dominated and controlled by another person? How did it make you feel? Did you want to push away from them or run away to escape their control?
This is a common feeling that many children have every day — because their parents are insensitive to their needs for independent self-expression.
Children are complete human beings, with a full spectrum of human needs: safety and security, love and connection, boundaries and independence.
Every child has their own unique temperament and personality, shaping their response to parents, family members and their environment. All children share the need to express their own will. Will is the faculty that enables an individual to make their own decisions and act in accordance with their internal needs and desires. Parents can either suppress their child's natural will — or empower it.
During most of our western culture's history, willfulness in children has been associated with obstinacy — a refusal to bend and comply with the wishes of a superior. We assume that our children should obey our commands, demands and instructions — maintaining a positive and cheery cooperation all the while.
Some children do have a compliant temperament and will happily cooperate with requests and commands. This is a successful strategy for getting along in the world, so these children often grow up to be productive workers and rule-followers. The downside of this strategy is that they could grow up to be sheep-like and uncreative, requiring instructions from others to function, rather than feeling free to think for themselves.
Other children are naturally independent, with a strong need to express their own will. They test any boundaries set for them, including those set by their parents. These children can grow up to be rule-breakers, creative thinkers and innovators. If their strong will is suppressed, they could push against that suppression and become rebels, even outlaws. If their will is crushed by suppressive parents, they could end up depressed, anxious or ineffective in their life. A thwarted free will can significantly impact the child's self-worth.
During earlier stages of human society, compliance was a positive and necessary trait — it ensured the tribe's ways and traditions. Compliance with tribal norms held people together strongly, and enabled the tribe to deal effectively with external threats. If you didn't go along with the beliefs, morals, and expected behaviors of the tribe, you could be ostracized or ejected from the community, which was often a death sentence.
In an environment of no change or slow change, stability is the key to survival. In today's culture of rapid change, flexibility and creativity are the keys to thriving, and compliance can become a detriment. Adults who trust their own instincts and express their own will are generally more confident and flexible. They're able to adjust to changing circumstances and can thrive in an unpredictable environment.
Regardless of temperament, all children need to learn two skills: 1) to express their will, and 2) to self-manage their will. Maturity is the ability to balance one's own desires with the needs and preferences of others.
Raising children to maturity is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. You can be proud of your parenting skills if your children become independent, yet also able to care for others and respect others' free will choices. Our great opportunity as parents is the power to influence our children and inspire them to express their will in positive ways. This benefits everyone.
Regardless of their age, your children have their own will. If you impose your will on them without respecting theirs, they will most likely push back against you in order to express their needs, desires and preferences. For young children, and especially for teens, becoming "willful" is an important developmental stage. Your child's self-confidence will be determined by how you interact with them when they express their choices. You can help them do this so that they learn to do so with both self-respect and respect for others.
There will always be differences between your child's needs and your own. They are a different person with different desires and interests. This is natural and appropriate. However, it can cause great consternation to parents, especially when it looks like the child may harm himself, or if he is disrespecting the parents. Respect is a skill that needs to be learned, and can be taught as part of empowering a child's free will to be positively expressed.
Oneness and Separateness
Every human being (adults as well as children) has two important and primary needs that deserve respect: 1) connection and 2) independence. In children, there is a natural arc of development that looks like the pulse of an ocean wave at the beach — a back-and-forth flow between the two extremes of completely connected and completely independent.
In the womb, a baby is 100 percent connected and dependent upon its mother for everything. Once born, it must stay very close to its mother (or primary caregiver) to feel safe. Independence, or being alone, at this stage would be dangerous. Most mammals, left alone outside the protection of family, face certain death.
As a baby grows and develops, she develops a need for independent action. This is most obvious at the crawling stage. She will crawl away from her mother (or caregiver), then turn around to check to see whether Mom is watching, still connected. The mother's response informs the baby whether it's safe to explore further. This bond is called Secure Attachment. The mother's top priority is to keep her child safe and nourished, while also honoring the child's need to explore the world on its own.
Some children seem to be designed for independence. They may crawl away without looking back, continuing to crawl until they are stopped — but this is an exception. Most children move away from the mother a short distance, then return, then move away, then return, over and over. Each foray into the world goes a little further away from the source of safety and nurturance. Trust of self and trust of the world are developed based on the messages the child receives from their primary caregivers (ideally, both parents). Parents can guide the child to experiment with their will in a safe way, empowering the child to trust their own instincts as they explore the world.
True independence occurs in small steps over a long period of time. By the walking toddler stage, the forays become longer still. Shy and insecure children stay close longer, often clinging to the parent. This can easily frustrate the parents, who feel overwhelmed by this level of attachment. Most parents know that too much clinging can delay the child's ability to be self-managing.
A wise parent cares about and respects the child's dual needs for BOTH independence AND connectedness. They will also respect their OWN need for independence and connection. Wise parents ensure that their own needs are fulfilled, independent from the child. They cultivate a life outside the home and childcare duties, while making sure the child is well cared for by someone they trust. The development of healthy independence is a back-and-forth dance. Every child is unique in his or her maturation pace. A parent's role is to consciously and productively support the child's growth and development in their experiments with personal will, as best they can. Read More...
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