Friday, July 1, 2011

The Price of a Broken Will

Some popular parenting books encourage parents to "break the will" of their children. The main method of doing this is to spank the child until he shows an attitude change. Some call it "shaping the will," which sounds less harsh. Whatever you call it, they claim this results in children who are obedient and submissive to authority. According to this philosophy, when a child has a strong will, it is a disadvantage. A "strong-willed child" might do things he is told not to do or challenge something an adult has said. Sure, these offenses may be frustrating. But are the consequences of a broken will really worth it just to obtain complete obedience? A strong will is invaluable, and very difficult to repair once it is broken.

First off, what exactly is the will? The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as "the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action" and "control deliberately exerted to do something or to restrain one's own impulses." When we break a child's will, we are destroying her motivation and ability to control her actions. Sadly, these methods are most prevalent with "willful" toddlers who have not yet developed impulse control. So we take a person who developmentally has no impulse control, insist that she control herself, and enforce that by crippling her ability to do so. It just doesn't make sense.

And what is the price of a broken will? Maybe kids who exactly as they are told make for a less stressful life in the present, but how does it affect them in the future? I can speak to this issue from personal experience. I don't wish to blame anyone in my past. Most people were doing what they thought was in my best interest, but a combination of circumstances resulted in my having a weak will. Here's what a weak will looks like on an adult: I am a horrible procrastinator. I have a difficult time finishing projects I start. I fail to advocate for causes that I believe in because I fear a conflict. I act stubborn, but that's all it is--an act. Any time I face a real fight, I back down. This has caused me to compromise to my child's detriment. Once, afraid to challenge a doctor, I allowed my son to receive eight vaccinations at once! Within a week, he developed a reaction, but there was no way to tell which vaccination had caused it. I still carry guilt for that to this day. That's the worst consequence. The guilt. Guilt for things that have happened or not happened because of my weak will.

So should you tolerate disrespect from your children? No, but nor should they have to tolerate it from you. The best way to foster respect with your children is to model it. Respect your children, your partner, and everyone around you. Show them how it's done! Please, leave their wills intact. Maybe someday your son will face temptation from his peers to try drugs. Maybe your daughter will need to stand up against unnecessary birth interventions. When that time comes, you can be confident that you have raised an adult who can stand on conviction and say NO! To me, that's worth hearing a few dozen "noes" from a toddler.

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3 comments:

Zoie @ TouchstoneZ said... [Reply to comment]

Bravo! It bothers me so much when I hear this type of treatment of children. Your point about the type of adult being raised is so true. Aside from the damage done to the little beings that have just as much right to respectful, loving relationships as adults, killing their spirit produces adults incapable of fully functioning on their own. Sure, they can potentially be productive, but parts of themselves may never be fully realized. That is not a life I would wish for anyone

Macha said... [Reply to comment]

I have a 16 year old sister who lives with my parents, and watching the way my parents and other adults treat her, who is nearly an adult really, literally makes me ill. I have times where I am just boiling over with rage because of how I was "disciplined" as a child. I was the "perfect" little obedient girl who hardly ever fought with my parents, and I'm seeing the long-term effects as an adult. I can't make decisions for myself and I let people treat my like crap all the time. I've been programed to shut up and do as I'm told: thanks Mom and Dad! I'm emotionally and intellectually paralyzed! I'm only now learning to overcome what was done to me as a child. And I want to point out, my parents weren't "abusive," they spanked me, I was put in time-outs, and lectured when I did something wrong. Sometimes I was hit across the face or knuckled on the skull, but not often. Because I was so "obedient," I didn't even get punished that often. Still, I look at the list of things you can expect of children who were spanked, and it matches up perfectly. I'm aggressive and violent (took years to overcome my violent tendencies), emotionally ill-equipped, and like I said, I find it agonizing to make decisions for myself or stand up to anyone.

Thanks so much for posting this. Children are human beings with dignity, and they deserve the same respect and empathy one would give an adult, and they need adults around them to show love and affection especially when they are least lovable: when they are combative, aggressive, or manipulative. Children learn from the example adults set for them, not from being broken into submission.

Cirrus said... [Reply to comment]

This comes as a very timely wake-up call for me, thank you so much for posting this! My very wonderful, very smart, very willfull 4-year-old son has been pushing the limits lately, and I have been at a cross-roads on how to handle it. This pushed me onto the right road. Thank you.

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