We want our children to be strong and have the will power to get through things and move toward their goals.
But I’ve noticed that parents tend to try to break willful behavior; this seems to have a more pejorative connotation. And it may be in response to an expectation from the social group around them. Society has a preference for perfect mannered children that don’t go against the grain.
If your goal is to develop internal strength, positive self- esteem, and resilience, I suggest this is not a good idea.
Remember in the early years it’s a lot about power, and how to manage it. If we diminish their connection to their own desires and sense of power too early it’s really difficult to get that sense back.
It’s a matter of moderation. It’s a negotiation of internal and external needs and developing a way to mediate between these two arenas – over-control leads to submissiveness and timidity and a truncated view of himself while under-control leads to a lack of empathy and an inability to work with others and an inflated view of himself.
We have to develop internal strength and external flexibility and I submit that it’s actually willfulness that is behind the push through behavior you see in athletes, leaders, and entrepreneurs. The goal is to guide the willfulness behavior so that it serves to offer tenacity rather than diva behavior.
My parents sent me and my brothers to these great private colleges. They wanted to raise leaders. They wanted us to get the opportunity to learn how to think through problems on our own and make connections in ways that were innovative and creative.
It worked we each developed strong thinking skills and developed great leadership qualities – and we made choices they didn’t always agree with since we made decisions based on our own criteria. It also meant that we didn’t just do what they said. We didn’t take their advice without considering other options and coming to our own conclusions. We argued with them and went on our own courses – which they sometimes perceived as dangerous and downright wrong. This was very frustrating for them.
They wanted us to be strong and stand up for ourselves but not necessarily to them.
I’m sure an experience of be careful what you wish for… but the reality is we do tend to want our children to do exactly what we say while simultaneously we want them to be strong in other situations – standing up for themselves and what they believe in.
The modeling we do about how we can tolerate their working through their power issues as they develop a sense of themselves is paramount for their success at being independent and interdependent in the outside world. We have to offer the container and guide their willfulness in positive directions.
For internal strength, a sense of self and empowerment, innovation, creativity, and leadership willfulness and will power are required.
The non-pejorative, healthy aspect of will – fullness is being full of will. Having one’s own ideas, and a plan for completing them. Feeling strong and not wanting to give in – fighting for what you believe in and believing in yourself even when others don’t. Being able to push through and persevere even when people who matter to you don’t agree with or believe in your plan.
It’s a description of inner strength. We want to have that. We want our children to have that. But we may not see that we are actually diminishing their chance for that by squashing that willful behavior.
Here’s what I suggest, try figuring out how to guide that willfulness.
You can use the stop, look, and listen techniques I’ve written about to evaluate what may be underlying the aspect of the willfulness that is not serving then. Then guide them to redirect that while aligning with their strength. Get connected to what is driving it and when it is coming out. Is it related to a talent that needs to be developed? Is it something that has to do with their emotions and sensitivity? Are they being over challenged or under challenged? When they feel discounted does it flare or when they’re really excited about something?
The answers to these questions will give you a few clues to what the willfulness behavior is communicating.
Then once you figure that out reinterpret or reframe the willfulness as strength and start to teach how to use that strength in a growth promoting way by connecting it to whatever you discovered about what it’s communicating.
And try to keep your own reactions and expectations out of it. By that I mean try to respond to their power issues from the figure/ground perspective. Remembering it’s a sense of will and how they’re working through their power issues to define themselves.
Of course you can use this as a way to understand a willfulness aspect of yourself that you find has an underlying negative component that doesn’t serve you too. Unlink the strength part from the negative component. Remember to apply compassion and understanding toward your child (or yourself) as you work through this.
See you tomorrow.