Sunday, July 03, 2016

The parents I hear from most have children like my daughter—a child who won’t take no for an answer, who will not be told what to do, and who will stand her ground for as long as it takes to get someone to understand her sense of “rightness” — in other words, maddening.These are the children who push our buttons, who lead us into reactive territory saying and doing the things we swore we never would, and who cause us to drop exhausted and frustrated into bed every night worrying about the hopelessness of their futures. This is because of the way we perceive them.

Typically we see these children as stubborn, bull-headed, obstinate, rude — a problem.

Traditional parenting determines that these children need to learn who is boss and to be wrestled into respectful attitudes and behavior. And traditionally, we attempt controlling this rude behavior with punishments and arbitrary consequences like taking away privileges and isolation in time out.

However these methods cause most of these strong-willed children to dig their heels in deeper, fight harder, get louder and more dramatic with their behavior, and lead us right into daily power struggles. Believe me, I know this from personal experience.

Over my 30 years as a parenting specialist, I have come to believe that children, who are resistant and argumentative when told what to do and how to do it, have a depth of knowing what is right for them that feels assaulted when they think they are being told to do it differently — a way that does not feel right to them. It’s not that they don’t want to cooperate, it’s that they cannot do what they are asked if it does not make logical sense to them.

OK, I know what you’re saying. “What has to make more logical sense about coming to dinner, doing homework, turning off the computer, etc., etc.”

The thing is, their sense of logic and rightness is developmentally in line with their age. What is “right” for a 5-year-old can feel totally wrong to his parent. His brother knocks into his Lego creation, even accidentally, and he will scream at his brother for doing it wrong. But you add insult to injury when you tell him he’s wrong.

I have learned that the way to gain their cooperation is to simply understand where they are coming from. You don’t have to agree with your child’s logic, you just have to understand that he has it and manage it with consideration.

You also may have children, or you certainly know of them, who are much more laid back, compliant, cooperative, and happy-go-lucky. (I have one of each.) Which one do you think is the easier to parent and teach? Which one makes you feel like a better parent or teacher? I have come to the conclusion that the “won’t take no for an answer” kids are born with a steel rod of integrity. If something does not comply with what they think is right, they won’t buy it.

And the more compliant children care more about social interaction and getting along and are sensitive to conflict. Harmony is their top value, while personal integrity is tops for stand-their-ground kids who have no trouble risking conflict.

The Harmony kids are easy. But the Integrity kids are the ones we need to take stock of, because we are pushing them further away with our resistance to their resistance. They will win every time, except the win is lost for them when they feel unaccepted and misunderstood by the most important people in their lives.

I have learned that the most important quality for success in life is strong self-confidence — something I had to gain as an adult. No matter what the neurological, physical, or mental impairments that may separate a child from the norm, self-confidence will feed them and help them reach their potential. I have also learned that when that confidence is drummed out of you by unintentionally damaging messages that the more traditional parenting methods embody and are replaced with fear and insecurity, that sense of personal integrity and rightness can take some seriously damaging detours.

When the perception is, This kid needs to learn who’s boss. She needs to listen and do what she’s told, the Integrity child will scream, No, I don’t. You’re not the boss of me.

And guess what? She’s right. She is trying to get you to understand that there is nothing wrong with her. But she does need to feel like her own boss.

As long as you can help her feel strong and take into consideration that she believes she knows what’s best for her (even when she doesn’t), she will incorporate other’s senses of rightness as she grows.

And you will likely learn that she really does know what’s best for her. When this integrity is understood and accepted, the edges will soften, intolerance will grow into compassion, and this child will develop in ways that you cannot possibly imagine.