If you’ve ever hit a skid while driving, you know that suddenly heading a different direction while out of your control is scary. Your first instinct may be to think, “No! This isn’t right; this isn’t the direction I need to go.” Your instinct might be to jerk the wheel back to your intended path. However, when your car is skidding, what is actually the most effective way to get back on the road? By turning into the skid first. Then you’re able to slow the momentum and gain some traction.
Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D. and author of Hold on to Your Kids, says that strong-willed children have similar reactions to a hard turn away from a skid. “Counterwill is an instinctive, automatic resistance to any sense of being forced,” says Dr. Neufeld. “It is triggered whenever a person feels controlled or pressured to do someone else’s bidding.” This is actually a positive attribute, as it protects children from being influenced or pressured from anyone to whom they do not have an emotional connection. When you find yourself at odds with your strong-willed child’s energy, find a way to join her where she is—in other words, turn into the skid—in order to redirect that momentum. Connect with your child by acknowledging her feelings and understanding her perspective:
- I can tell that you’re really upset.
- You are having such a fun time playing this game!
- You are sad to say goodbye.
- You feel very strongly about this.
- You need to be able to make your own decisions.
- You are feeling so angry right now.
- You must feel like you don’t have any control.
- You really want to play with your friends right now.
- You were hoping to have a cookie.
- You love that toy, and you’re upset that you can’t have it.
- You wish you didn’t have to get dressed right now.
- You’d prefer to stay home today and not go anywhere.
- Yeah, I can understand that.
For strong-willed children, the need to be heard and understood is especially important, as their energy can run so powerfully in the opposite way. Coming alongside children through empathy, validation, and acceptance allows them to feel connected enough to steer their energy in the desired direction.
This is an excerpt from my article, “Parenting the Strong-Willed Child,” out now in the current issue of Nurture magazine.