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!”
Since this seems to be such a common parenting challenge, I’ve decided to share my thoughts on this issue and some unedited, personal correspondence between my husband and I when we recently faced this issue with our eldest son Oscar, age 9.
From birth, Oscar has been a child with lots of fears. He hates any situation where he does not feel in control and therefore doesn’t feel safe. Unfortunately, in our culture, where children are not treated as fully cognizant human beings with essential rights and dignities, this happens often.
So our challenge as parents has been to do whatever it takes to make him feel safe, whilst slowly helping him to build confidence and security in the world.
This latest incidence was sparked by Oscar’s refusal to go the the first track meet of the season. Oscar had decided he would like to join the track team at school (his first time trying track & field, and his first time joining a school team). His Dad had been getting up early 3 times a week to drive him to track practice before school. After three weeks of practices, it was time to attend his first track meet competition after school.
However, early that morning, Oscar decided he didn’t want to go. I was still in bed (having been up late working the night before), by the time he came into my room, Oscar was so upset he refused to even go to school that day.
So, I kept him home with me – on the stipulation that he was not allowed to play with his homeschooled neighbour until 3 pm. I didn’t want to reward him for staying home, but I wanted him to be able to take a day off and not be forced into attending when he was so upset. We spent a long time talking about his feelings about track, the team, the coach, his feelings about his Dad, similar incidences in the past, etc. Then we did a mind/body acupuncture tapping method together called EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) to release some of the fear and conflict he was feeling.
He spent the rest of the day playing with his 2 year old brother and re-doing a five-page homework assignment in hopes that he could resubmit it and get a better mark (he did).
However, my husband did not agree with my handling of this situation. He feels we should not allow Oscar’s fears to stop him, but should use various persuasive techniques to get him to ‘keep his commitments’. Which is a fairly common approach and can work well in certain applications, or with certain children. But with highly sensitive, fearful children, it is not the best approach.
In this instance, if we were to do this, then let’s follow this “method” through to its natural conclusion:
– Oscar will quit unless we hammer him into going
– Oscar performs well after lots of pressure, cajoling, bribery from us
– Oscar can lie about his feelings, because he is a people-pleaser and he MOST wants to please his Dad, one of the most important people in his life. Oscar doesn’t want Dad or Grandad to feel bad. He wants the important people in his life to be happy and proud of him.
What do all of these points above have in common?
NONE of the motivation, desire, commitment etc. is coming from Oscar himself. It is all coming from external influences – i.e. the parents.
So what are we teaching Oscar 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.
Oscar had an excellent experience of consequences when his friend M. told him of his wins at the meet. Oscar was royally pissed off. This is good. This is actually positive and part of the process. This is a natural consequence.
Oscar also expressed some very valid feeling and fears when we discussed it in the morning. We did some EFT tapping on those fears. Do you think Oscar would participate in tapping – which he dislikes – if his fears weren’t real?
So, back to the natural conclusion of this method……
If we use these methods, we are teaching Oscar 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 aggro.
If Oscar had come to me first that morning – before working himself into such a state of resistance and conflict with dad – he would most likely have chosen to attend the track meet.
Because my agenda is not to control him and get him to do what I think is best for him. My agenda is 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?
My agenda is to discover Oscar’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 using an effective tool like EFT. My agenda is 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.
My agenda is 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 Oscar’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.
I hope that’s given you some ideas for dealing with this issue in your family, or at least sparked some good dialogue. Let me know your thoughts in the COMMENTS box below….