Striving For Co-operative Kids... The Gift in our 'Difficult' Children
My 9 year old hardly ever feels ill; he’s probably missed two days of school in his life due to being unwell.
But a couple of weeks ago he woke up with a headache.
I was in the ‘It’s just a headache, Calpol to the rescue’ camp, but he refused point blank to go to school.
I had an in-person training session to deliver that day and, quite frankly, this was the LAST thing I needed.
The whole episode was awful for both of us.
I did not succeed at being an empathetic parent. Instead, I caved and tried bribing him. It failed.
He climbed back into his bed; not only with his headache, but his anger at not being heard or taken seriously; and refused to move.
Many of us have strong-willed children, and I was not grateful for mine right then.
We sorted it out in the end. He went to school at lunchtime, I got to work in the afternoon. But there was still nothing to be appreciated about the whole event.
Despite all I know and teach, all I could see at the time was a child who wouldn’t listen, using unfair tactics to have it his way.
That’s the downside of being a stressed-out parent. We disconnect from our ‘thinking-brain’ state and thus, disconnect from what our child is experiencing.
There’s not much space for empathy when we’re in ‘survival mode’; for recognising that our child’s perception of the world right then is completely not aligned to ours.
But once I’d recovered, and had the time to sort out my own brain, I saw a very different situation; a child who was being dismissed more than ‘difficult’, being more ‘determined’ than just stubborn.
I’m not denying that on occasion, all our children – just like adults – will need the attitude to accept that ‘life ain’t fair, so suck it up’.
But, contrary to what I felt at the time, the asset that I now appreciate most in the whole saga is my son’s his ability and willingness to stand his ground; to express the injustice he felt, even with all the tears and the shouting it involved.
However you’d describe them; oppositional, willful, challenging; their refusal to roll over; to ask ‘How high shall I jump?’ and instead say ‘I ain’t jumping. The end’; is hugely undervalued in our kids (even if it makes them hard work to raise sometimes.)
Much of my work is with services that support very vulnerable children; those entrenched in the risk of exploitation or grooming; and I always ask myself, wouldn’t it help to protect these children if, instead of teaching kids to conform and comply, we also taught them how to say ‘no’, to dare to refuse?
Even in the average healthy childhood, they spend far too much of their lives conditioned to do as they’re told; to assume the grown-ups in their lives have the power, to pursue a version of ‘success’ that’s actually about someone else’s needs, or to simply be ‘easy’ to live with.
Conformity and compliance absolutely have a place in life, and knowing when to just keep your mouth shut and get on with can be a protective factor, too. But it’s not the aim of the end game, is it?
The world is in a mess and I could easily get on my ‘raising the next generation’ soapbox about ‘what the world needs’. But I won’t.
This post is just about what our children need; to believe in themselves and their own voices, and to know how to implement and protect their own boundaries.
So when we can, may we embrace our strong-willed children!
We don’t need to be raising little anarchists, and it may feel like going against the grain, but let’s do it anyway.
Let’s raise our kids to fight for their rights, to lead from their hearts with purpose, to make value-based judgments, and to become change-makers who passionately protect and do more of what they believe in.
It might mean we occasionally sacrifice our ‘peaceful parenting’ dreams, our quest for compliant and co-operative kids, but what do we give them in return?!
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