Chapter Six is an interesting exploration of the concept of “counterwill”. The authors define “counterwill” as “an instinctive, automatic resistance to any sense of being forced. It is triggered whenever a person feels controlled or pressured to do someone else’s bidding. It makes its most dramatic appearance in the second year of life-yes, the so-called terrible two’s. (If two-year-olds could make up such labels, they would perhaps describe their parents as going through the “terrible thirties.”) Counterwill reappears with a vengeance during adolescence but it can be activated at any age – many adults experience it.”
This whole description made me chuckle. Children push against forms all the time, but so do adults! How often do we walk around complaining and essentially demonstrate the equivalent of kicking and screaming as we grump around? “Why do I have the be the one who sets the tone in my home?” “Why do I have to do all the research on parenting?” “Why do I have to do all the housework?”
Our children experience this as well. I am very appreciate of the way Waldorf Education really helps me look at my children in a “sideways” manner. Sometimes we really can affect more change through telling a story, through just listening and sleeping on it, through not approaching things so directly. To approach things so directly so often leads to COUNTERWILL.
This from page 75: “Counterwill manifests itself in thousands of ways. It can show up as the reactive no of the toddler, the “You’re aren’t my boss” of the young child, as balkiness when hurried, as disobedience or defiance…(Uh, careful, Neufeld and Mate with that term. Those of you who read this blog as Frequent Flyers are probably familiar with this back post:https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/09/16/a-few-fast-words-regarding-defiance-in-children-under-the-age-of-6/ ) It is visible in the body language of the adolescent. Counterwill is also expressed through passivity, in procrastination, or in doing the opposite of what is expected. It can appear as laziness or lack of motivation. It may be communicated through negativity, belligerence, or argumentativeness, often interpreted by adults as insolence.”
The authors’ point in this chapter is that counterwill is normal and with good attachment to parents it can be kept in check. However, if the child is not attached to the parents and instead attach to a peer unit, it goes completely out of control. The authors tell the stories of adolescents who do horrible things in the name of “doing it because we weren’t supposed to” and to “not let them push us around.” “Clinicians diagnose such children with oppositional defiant disorder. Yet it is not the oppositionality- the counterwill- that is out of order but the child’s attachments.” These children are only being true to their instinct in defying people to whom they do not feel connected. The more peer-oriented a child, the more resistant to the adults in charge.”
Don’t forget that “counterwill” has two important NORMAL functions:
1. To keep a child from being influenced by those outside of a child’s attachment circle of family and
2. To help the child develop internal will and autonomy.
The authors talk about the difference between will and clinging to a desire. They remark that a child’s oppositionality is actually not an expression of will; that in fact it denotes an absence of will because it only allows a person to react not act from a free and conscious choosing. Counterwill can be healthy in a “I can do it by myself” kind of independence-asserting sort of way, and counterwill will fade as a child experiences true maturing and growth toward independence. Counterwill as a result of peer-attachment is very different from the counterwill that is serving the purpose of the child attaining independence.
Carrie here: This is key in smaller children especially. Smaller children really do not have free and conscious choosing they way an adult should have, so why do we put this burden on them to make choices, to choose to do X or Y? Go back to the principles of the Early Years: imitation, less words, less choice or no choice, let rhythm carry you and when these moments of pushing against forms happens, be that strong, calm, capable rock to support your child!
On page 82, the authors write: “It is understandable, when feeling a lack of power ourselves, to project a will to power onto the child. If I am not in control, the child must be; if I do not have power, the child must have it; if I am not in the driver’s seat, the child has to be….In the extreme, even babies can be seen to have all the power to control one’s schedules, to sabotage one’s plans, to rob’s one sleep, to rule the roost….The problem with seeing our children as having power is that we miss how much they truly need us.”
If all you can see in your children is the negative, the anger, the resistance, the “they are out to destroy my life, I know it!” then of course all you will respond with is your own anger, your own frustration, your own sadness. Connect with your children, love your children, hold to the boundaries but out of love and wanting them to grow up to be good, ethical and moral human beings. Your connection will help make things better! It really can go more smoothly when you are not on opposite sides. Love one another!