A Willful Child Needs to be a Skillful Child
Willful children are a misnomer. They actually are belligerent because they can’t articulate their needs and express their anger and anxieties. Typically when parents face a child with a temper tantrum or oppositional behavior, they try to use rewards and punishments to teach the lessons they want to share. However, the punishments are usually resented and the negative behavior increases. The rewards may work temporarily but the lessons learned aren’t internalized only the wish for the reward.
The problem with this typical scenario is that the child is delayed in his or her critical thinking skills. What are they?
- impulse control
- understanding the consequences of their actions on others
- tolerance of frustration, disappointment and disillusionment
- regulation of intense emotions
- organization and planning
- focus and attention
So, the willful child is not bad, he’s just not skillful at these 8 abilities that he needs to be taught by his parents using Parental Intelligence.
If parents, too, aren’t skillful in these abilities, The Parental Intelligence Way will guide them. There are five structured organized steps that require reasoning and thinking before acting on the parents’ part.
Let’s say your ten year old son lashes out that he hates you out of nowhere. If your tendency is to say, “You can’t talk like that” chances are he’ll just feel not understood and angrier. Instead, use the first step of Parental Intelligence: Stepping Back. That means pause, wait, observe, nonjudgmentally try to think about his behavior past and present to see if there are themes that you may have missed.
The second step is: Self-Reflecting. This means you reflect on how it feels when he talks this way. Perhaps you feel anger in return or confusion or anxiety. Think about if anyone else past or present has lashed out at you in this way. You may be reacting to the person in the past not only to your child in the present.
The third step is Understanding Your Child’s Mind. This is where the skill set comes in. You need to help your child express himself in other words, but perhaps he’s too angry to get into a dialogue. So ask him to write down what’s on his mind. Let’s say, he writes “I’m angry you changed my room without asking. Now I don’t know where anything is. It’s like it’s not my room anymore.” All you actually did was organize his things, pick up laundry off the floor, and straighten his desk. You thought you were being helpful. But this child isn’t flexible. He can’t tolerate change. To him, his room was taken away from him. Now, indeed, he doesn’t know where all his stuff is and feels actually more disorganized because he can’t find his things readily. He doesn’t have the skill of organization, so it would have been more helpful, in retrospect to organize his room im. Then he’d learn how to do it and know what was changing in his room. He has trouble with transitions so this was like a whirlwind of change assaulted his room.
Your aim is to teach him the skills he lacks or is delayed in learning. So now you tell him you were trying to help, but see it wasn’t feeling right to him. Teach him how to be flexible, by asking him what alternatives from his perspective could have been done, so you could vacuum his floor that was filled with stuff. He first might say, “Just leave my stuff alone.” But you asked him for his alternatives which catches his imagination.
You are also now doing step four: Understanding Your Child’s Stage of Development which doesn’t include planning and organization and flexibility. He also can’t tolerate frustration so asking for his alternatives from his perspective settles him down.
He says, “If you want to vacuum, just put all my stuff on my bed. If you want to do the laundry give me a basket to put my clothes in. After you do the laundry put them back in the basket. Then I know where they are.”
This is a great alternative. Your son is thinking! You’ve begun to work on his skills. He isn’t really as willful as you imagined; he just doesn’t know how to resolve a problem like this.
Then you ask him what he’ll do about sleeping if everything else is on his bed. You’re teaching him how to plan ahead, an important skill. He says he’ll put his stuff on his desk and dresser. Then he’ll know where to find them. Again, he’s now thinking ahead and actually thinking of you and what you want. So he’s becoming empathic with your need to have things clean and organized.
You have entered the fifth step of Parental Intelligence: Problem Solving. Only now it’s collaborative. He is making suggestions, thinking of alternatives, becoming somewhat flexible inch by inch. He is learning how to think critically! No rewards. No punishments. Just thinking and communicating are resulting. A far cry from a willful child. He isn’t belligerent and oppositional, he just needed guidance.
This may sound ideal and not work easily at the beginning, but you are helping a child with delayed abilities. If you can cope with your own feelings of being told he hates you, then you can step back and give your son the skills he lacks.
When this type of scenario occurs over and over, eventually he will see your pleasure in his ideas. This will give him confidence and the wish to please you and himself. He will be internalizing these skills not doing them for external rewards which would be unending.
Congratulations! You have Parental Intelligence and your son is more skilled in solving problems. A major coup that will continue to help you both communicate in the future and strengthen your bond together.