As parents, we are often faced with a child who doesn’t want to go to school, or soccer practice, or some other activity they are enrolled in.
Usually, our knee-jerk reaction is to trumpet on at them about “comittment!”. Thinking we are doing a good job by teaching our children the value of comittment, of sticking it out, of seeing things through.
Or, an alternative motivation behind achieving compliance might be, as I heard one parent say, “Life sucks. Better they find out now.” Erm….
At any rate, this is can also be a source of conflict between parents, as they often hold differing views on the appropriate way to handle a kid who says, “I’m not going!”
The challenge as parents is to do whatever it takes to make our children feel safe, whilst slowly helping them to build confidence and security in the world.
Forcing children to do something results in:
- the child quits unless we hammer him/her into doing it
- the child performs well after lots of pressure, cajoling, bribery from us
- the child can lie about his feelings, because s/he is a people-pleaser.
What do all of these points above have in common?
NONE of the motivation, desire, commitment etc. is coming from the chidl. It is all coming from external influences – i.e. the parents.
So what are we teaching through this method?
We can try to force, trick, cajole or control our child’s choices. Or we can view it as a process and be there as a support and guide as he discovers natural consequences to his actions and then asks self if that’s who he is? how he wants to live his life? etc.
If we use these methods, we are teaching the child that:
1. He should do something, not because he wants to, or it’s in alignment with his goals and values as a human being, but because he’s weak enough to allow himself to be manipulated into performing the way SOMEONE ELSE wants him to behave. That’s a lesson that will serve him really well when the dominant presence in his life is not us, but his peer group. We’ll see really good results from that training when the person he most wants to please is not mum or dad, but his girlfriend, or the popular guys at school.
2. Better not try anything, because god help you if you decide you don’t like it anymore, or it’s too stressful, or just not what you expected. Because then your parents are going to force you to keep going, because you made a commitment. So, best to just not try anything new, or join anymore group activities, ’cause it’s not worth the aggravation.
Our agenda should not be to control the child and get him/her to do what I think is best. Our agenda should be to find out what HE wants and talk to him about how his actions determine who he is in this world. And does he want his world to become bigger or smaller?
Our agenda should be to discover the child's real concerns regarding the coaching and the dynamics of the other kids and how all that makes him feel. And then address those feelings. Our agenda should be to give him the FREEDOM and tools to achieve the freedom to be who HE wants to be in this life. Not who I want him to be.
Our agenda should be to let him make some mistakes in his life, so he can learn about who he is, what he wants, and natural consequences of his actions. Rather than forcing, cajoling, bribing him to immediately produce the desired result (i.e. go to this track meet) I see this incidence as more than just whether he’ll go to the meet or not, no, it is far more valuable as a teaching and learning tool for the child's development into a successful adult.
I am not looking to raise an obedient child who can be easily controlled by me and perform according to MY values, and what’s important to me.
I am looking to raise a strong, successful adult, who is cognizant of HIS values, what is important to him, and lives his life accordingly.
And what would be the natural conclusion of this method?
1. He will look to his OWN gut for wisdom about what he’s really feeling and what’s really important to him. Not to the dominant person in his life.
2. He will learn natural consequences for various actions NOW when the payback is not too damaging nor devastating. Why do you think most teenagers make such disastrous decisions and muck themselves up so badly? They haven’t had any practice! They’ve been controlled as children, rather than guided to find their own wisdom and allowed to make good and bad choices, so they experience the consequences and then revise future behaviour, based on lessons learned.
3. He will learn the importance of using tools like dialoguing openly with someone he respects, EFT, connecting with his gut, to solve his problems and dilemmas.
4. Hopefully, over time, he will reduce his people-pleasing tendencies as he comes to put his own feelings and body wisdom before others. This will make him much happier in his life and also render him less susceptible to negative, persuasive influences. This will increase his integrity and authenticity as a successful human being in this life.
Arthur H. Belmont, LMFT
has over 18 years of experience working with children, teens and adults who are struggling with relational, emotional or behavioral issues.