Sunday, October 26, 2008

Discipline and will part1 2006

Some thoughts on the role of Will in discipline and child raising.
What is will? Weve' all heard of will. The word shows up in a million cliche's. "The willful child" "The will to live" "Willpower" "A will of his own". Except when it comes to children, the word "will" usually conjures up something strong and powerful.
"He overcame strong obstacles with his mighty will to succeed" type of thing. "She willed herself better"
Will, like time, (and sleep, and money) seems to be one of those things as adults we always wish we had more of.

Traditionally will has been seen as an undesirable quality in a child. Many discipline tomes have urged us to "conquor the will" of our children when they are very young. Bend their will. Make their will subservient to your own. Discipline. Obedience. Do it while they are babies (sleep training for examples) to show them whose boss.
Well as AP parents, heck as any parent who sees their child as fully human in their own right and worthy of respect, is going to shudder at this concept.
But what is the alternative. Perhaps as a reaction to the idea of fully squashing the will of our children is the idea that a child's will is to be fully accepted as equal to the parents. And that the parent should not oppose the will of their child, and therefore should have only fully consensual interactions and refrain from coercing their child as much as humanly possible.
While this may work for some families, and does fully respect the child's will this type of interaction is not for me.

But where does that leave us? Must we either squash our child's will to get their full and unquestioning obedience, OR allow our child the freedom to make all of their own decisions and treat their will as equal to our own. (we have had recent comments about waiting to put a child into a carseat indefinitely until the child chooses to do so themelves for example)

I believe that there is a middle ground. I believe that a child's will should be respected and kindled in relationships with other children and in situations and circumstances where it is safe and reasonable for a child toexercise their own will, and to hone it to good use.
I ALSO believe that it is important with children for them to know when it comes down to it, their parents will wins out.
We as parents can respect our children by letting things go whenthey dont really matter. (Sure if you want to wear plaid with poca dots, that's fine with me)
But when it comes down to the certain things that the parent believes are important (and these things are different for every single family) that what mom says goes.
We can also respect our children by changing our expectations based on their abilities and temperaments.

I want my children to have very strong wills. I want them to know what they want and go for it with single minded determination. I want them to mold that will to serve them their entire lives. So why in the world would I choose any discipline style , the effectiveness of which is reliant upon the full domination of my child's will?
I also want my children to be safe. I want them to have good manners and I want them to be relatively pleasant to live with. They dont know how to do these things yet on their own. THey also dont understand the importance of these things. Can we clash our wills with theirs and win without damaging that will?
I beleive we can. When our focus is NOT on dominating their will as a goal in itself, but only in the rare instances when it is necessary, it will rebound successfully enough.
And perhaps, I like to think, that by occasionally waging and winning these battles of wills we help our children learn to dominate their OWN will to train it to serve them better rather than let it run amok with the untrained wants and desires of a small baby.
I mean what good is a strong will if it is untrained and becomes focused on every random desire rather than on what we direct it towards?

So my answer for my family is that I dont have to either squash my child's will (as the Pearls and Ezzo seem to think is necessary) or let it run free and untrained. I can help my child hone his will to a razers edge by letting it butt up against my stronger will once in a while.But I dont seek to squash it. But as a parent I DO believe that it is of utmost importance that my will be stronger and longer lasting so that it can remain an effectiev tool to protect and guide my children. And with luck, I wont have to use it often.

But what happens when OUR wills are weak? I believe just about all of us have lived through times in our lives where we just didnt have the will to fight. Everyday things like a mild illness or lack of sleep can bring about a short bout of low will. Big challenges can bring about extended periods where our wills are shot. Maybe we are using our wills to deal with other stressors like financial or medical issues. Pregnancy or a new baby can do it. Any big stress is exhausting emotionally, and it gets pretty hard to build that will up to a level high enough to be an authority over our children, especially when they are the strong willed type to begin with. When our wills fail, our children know it. THey may up the ante and operate from an even stronger will to try to jump start our will to be their authority to them.
I dont know, it is just a guess, but maybe this is one reason why some children's behavior becomes a problem in times of crises. Perhaps they feel their parents pull away, maybe not emotionally but they feel the will of their parents, which is usually a protective wall around them, pull away or maybe crumble in places and they are sending out an alert signal.
I think we have all seen that at times when our will is weakest inregards to our children (perhaps because we had to use our fight up in another battle), that is when our children's behavior starts to get out of control.
Maybe when we are stumbling in regards to discipline we need to stop wondering what is wrong with our child, or our discipline strategy, and have a good strong look at our wills.