We do not need to know the answers, by seeking advice from experts or others, we simply need to be our child’s answer. This statement by Gordon Neufeld in the above video makes perfect sense. If we are constantly seeking tips from other parents on what we should do about our child misbehaving or with food or for their childcare setup, our children start to lose confidence in our abilities as a parent. We no longer seem to have control or knowledge about how to best respond in a situation. This can leave your children no longer wanting to come to you for help or advice. They do not view you as the alpha parent who can guide them through life’s challenges. When you ask them to do something, they can wonder if you are asking because you know they need to do it or because it’s something a friend told you. This makes them test your knowledge by seeing how much you really know.
What is Counterwill
Counterwill is where anybody does not want to do something they have been asked or told to do. There are two reasons for this counterwill in children: either the child is not attached to the person commanding orders, or they are not already choosing to do that command. The reaction is usually a strong noooo! So how do we avoid counterwill?
Attach to Your Children
Good attachments form when you are connecting well to your children. See my blog post about creating connections. Before asking your child to do something, it is worth reconnecting with them – raising your eyebrows, showing an interest, asking if they’re enjoying themselves. They are more likely to do what you want if they feel connected to you.
Choosing to do it
Help your children to follow your command by choosing something along a theme which they are already doing. The other day my toddler started throwing heavy objects and my husband was worried someone would get hurt. We tried asking her not to, but as we weren’t connected at that time she continued and she was picking bigger things to throw.
I explained that we can’t throw these heavy things because they could hurt someone or damage something, but did she want to play catch with her ballerina dress? She had never treated her dress like a ball before, so this intrigued her. The evening turned out to be a smash hit with our our daughter playing catch with her sister. Most importantly, Mummy and Daddy could relax as a tiny little ballerina dress posed zero risk to people or objects.
The reason that this worked so well? Because it was on the same theme of the activity my daughter was already doing – throwing something. She needed to throw, and I needed safety, so both of our needs were met. If instead we commanded her not to throw, full stop, she may have got frustrated and tried to continue anyway.
Risk of Gentle Parenting Going Wrong
Many gentle parents try to be responsive to the children’s needs. This responsiveness is important for the child to feel secure and comfortable in the parent’s home. Some parents can unintentionally end up becoming permissive and allowing their child to dictate what they do all the time. You can find they do not use you as their person to seek answers from. They become alpha children. They boss you around, tell you what to do, do not follow your orders but give their own orders to you.
In contrast, if you are trying to be gentle but the child reacts with counterwill, you may try to grow bigger or louder, to force them to do what you need. This also causes the child to become less attached to you and then they will not likely follow your orders because they do not like you. Would you do something for someone you do not like? Very doubtful. What about someone you are attached / do like? Yes you probably will do what they want because you want to please this likeable person.
My Parenting Has Gone Wrong. What Do I Need to Work On?
The questions you need to ask is how to win your child’s heart. Once you can answer this, you win their heart and then they will more likely use you as their guide through life.
We need to allow our children to face futility. Futility is when something happens outside of the child’s control that forces them to accept or change as a result. For example, Mummy is having a new baby, the toddler has no choice but to learn to adapt to the changes that this will bring. There simply is no other option for them. The only alternative to adaptation is aggression. The child refuses to accept the change and the new circumstances instead make them angry, frustrated, distressed.
It is important to allow the child to fully feel futility. The reason some children can adapt and others get aggressive is all to do with whether the child is allowed to feel their emotions. When a child (or adult for that matter) is able to fully feel their emotions of a change or situation, they will be able to accept the change is out of their control. Usually the acceptance of the change comes with a lot of tears. Gordon Neufeld refers to these as ‘tears of futility’. Without these being allowed, a child will continue to the next stage of the cycle and feel angry about the situation.
Besides allowing your children to express their emotions fully, I would highly recommend dealing with your own childhood traumas. Please read my post about childhood trauma (everyone has them by the way, don’t be fooled that ‘I’m fine! I don’t have any issues!’). Dealing with your own childhood traumas will open you up to connecting and attaching to your children more easily.
Link to Postnatal Depression
I’d like to reference to PND and PNA here as I was diagnosed with it shortly after the twins were born. You may be interested in my blog post about postnatal depression and anxiety. I did not receive any medication or professional help but I am definitely not depressed anymore. In actual fact, the tears I was expressing and the sadness I was feeling stemming from my own childhood was all a natural process of acceptance / futility.
Had I been told to take certain medication to stop me crying as I have PND, it gives an underlying message that I should not be crying this much. The medics give you a message that something is wrong and that you have some sort of imbalance that needs physical or mental intervention. Perhaps counselling and therapy would help, but actually, the biggest help in the longer term may be to allow those tears to flow. In the same way, if we allow our kids to cry about things they cannot control in response to change, they too will soon feel free of those feelings of anger and sadness.
I would highly recommend Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate’s book ‘Hold Onto Your Kids’ which explains about tears of futility and expressing emotions fully. They view the importance of attachment parenting and raising children gently. I felt it was powerfully written and I found it truly inspirational to my gentle parenting journey so far.