Children clearly let us know about their need to establish their identity as early as they enter the toddler years. This is commonly a difficult time for parents, many of whom refer to this time-period by the well known label: “the terrible two’s.” The authors of ‘Hold on to Your Kids’ call this appearance of separation from the parents “Counterwill.” In my work, I refer to this ‘counterwill’ as ‘resisting control.’ Human nature instinctively resists control and here’s why.
One of the main reasons for resisting control is so that children and teens/young adults can naturally develop into the healthy, autonomous, and independent adults they are meant to be.
I really appreciate how the authors explain the toddler’s need for responding with ‘no!’ to their parents’ well-meaning requests (or demands.) Their explanation gives great insight into the purpose this need serves for children and teenagers.
According to the authors: “The child erects a wall of no’s. Behind this wall, the child can gradually learn her likes and dislikes, aversions and preferences, without being overwhelmed by the far more powerful parent. [This] may be likened to the small fence one places around a newly planted lawn to protect it from being stepped on.”
And this is my favorite part: “Because of the tenderness and tentativeness of the new emerging growth, a protective barrier has to be in place until the child’s own ideas, meanings, initiatives, and perspectives are rooted enough and strong enough to take being trampled on without being destroyed.”
I find that last sentence to be extremely powerful. Although this was written to explain the toddler’s need for resisting control, experts often compare the toddler years to the teenage/young adult years.
We see this expressed not just in the teen’s no’s!, but also in their requests (read: demands) to be left alone, want space, listen to music, and want more freedom(!)
When I have asked teens what they wanted most from their parents, many have responded that (besides for wanting to be respected and heard) they wanted space and time to themselves. Why? So that they could hear themselves think.
When given the opportunity to think, to really think, about and establish our own likes and dislikes, our own opinions, and our own dreams, we take the sacred opportunity to develop ourselves into healthy, autonomous, and confident human beings.
Teens and young adults can also be given the opportunity to think about their likes, wants and needs by being asked open ended questions (‘how’ and ‘what’ questions, as apposed to ‘why’ questions) like what do you think or like?; I would love to hear your thoughts and point of view; and how would you go about solving this problem?
As parents we often fall into the trap of ‘rescuing’ our children by telling them what it is that we think they should do (because we are wiser and more experienced!) But this robs our children of the opportunity to think and hear themselves and to recognize what they are, in-fact, capable of.
When not given this opportunity to carefully sow and cultivate the seeds of their own desires, wants, needs, and identities, young adults are left lacking confidence and belief in themselves, and rarely know what they want, think, or believe.
I see this often in my work with young adults and my approach is to help these young adults reconnect with their true selves so that they can listen to their own voices, hear themselves think and build confidence from within. I do this by listening deeply with respect and without judgment and asking open-ended questions. These are things you can do too. Do try this at home!