I was speaking to a group of moms about the developmental abilities of young children. We discussed chores that were realistic for children ages four to seven, chores they could successfully accomplish on their own after appropriate training. When I began to explain about sorting and classifying as requiring a higher level of cognitive maturity, one mom interrupted me and said, “I can’t help him clean his room. Then he will win!” “Win?” I thought. Then I realized she was referring to winning a battle of the wills. She would not consider the possibility that he might not be developmentally able to accomplish the task.
Parent vs. Child
This mom saw the issue as “my child against me,” when the point could have been, “what can my child accomplish, how can I help him be successful, and, therefore, how can I help him see that we are a team—not parent vs. child.” Many parents frequently engage in battles of will and believe they must win each battle or their authority is questioned. There was a time when I was one of those parents. Even then I knew there had to be a better way to teach my child to obey, and I determined to find it. My perspective changed as I began to understand what the will is and how it functions. A child must learn to obey, but can you teach a child, even a so-called strong-willed child, to obey without the battle? Yes! The battle is actually a hindrance, and the child will learn successfully without it.
Insecurity Leads to a Fight for Control
Engaging in battles of the will does not encourage obedience, nor does it build relationship. If you have an “I must win” mentality, you are seeing yourself pitted against your child for control. When you feel your authority has been questioned and react to his disobedience, your child will sense you feel threatened. When he perceives you feel threatened, your child becomes insecure. At this point, unconsciously, your child will try to gain control as a natural response to feelings of insecurity. And so the battle begins.
Connect Before You Correct
Instead of vying for control and reacting against your child, work to connect with him. Discover the causes influencing his behavior before reacting to him with punishments. A punishment-oriented parenting style tends to neglect the child’s need for love and security. Although this neglect would not be intentional, the assumption that everything you do for your child is showing your love for him, would not communicate love to him. If your natural tendency is toward quick and sometimes harsh punishment, take time to think of ways you can connect with your child in relationship. The more you are connected with your child and the more you respond to him calmly without engaging in a battle of the wills, the sooner relationships will flourish, and you will experience peace in your home. This type of change could be dramatic, so expect that it will not happen immediately. It may take some time to change your habits of thought and reaction.
Commit to Peace
Commit to responding to your child positively as often as possible. Be creative! Note how many times during a day you say, “Yes!” to your child. I’m not referring to becoming permissive or inconsistent. Be creative by wrapping your “Yes” within appropriate parameters or guidelines for your child. For example, when your child requests a sweet treat just before lunch, say, “Yes!” AND with your “yes” also say, “We’ll put the treat right here, and after lunch you may eat it.” In another example, your child hasn’t finished his chores, and you find him playing outside. You call him back into the house, but he wants to stay outside. Tell him, “Yes! you may go back outside as soon as you have finished this task. Let’s set a timer for fifteen minutes and see if you can finish up. Come quickly, and I will help you. Then you may play outside.”
Help your child to be able to make a successful response. Keep your conversation playful and happy. When you become impatient, intense, and harsh, he will react. Cooperation on his part will be more likely to happen if you are pleasant and positive.
If you would like more practical ideas for committing to peace in your home and avoiding battles of the will, check out this free resource: Avoid the Battle of the Wills—Promote PEACE.