The Purpose of Opposition in Children: Journey to Stop 4: The ‘M’ Word
Updated: Jan 20
Remember our messy status update from last time? (Refer to “Journey to Stop 3” for an explanation of the alpha instinct.)
“When both our alpha and counterwill show up with our child’s counterwill, our child’s alpha also pops up, upset by our counterwill, OMG!!! We end up in an automatic raging battle of instinctive competing reactions to each other. And this time nobody’s alpha cares much about caring. Everyone ends up unconsciously competing to win at all costs.”
The ‘M’ word is, “Mindfulness,” overused and trendy, …and still very relevant.
Mindfulness is a nonjudgmental state of mind, alert to the present moment.
If we can notice our own upset alpha, and our own emerging counterwill, then the arising mindfulness might allow us to refrain from acting out this battle that’s already erupting on the inside. Nonreactive awareness and the resulting momentary discernment can be a game changer, preventing what is otherwise automatic.
What to do instead of the raging battle is a subject for another blog post. In general, though, counterwill is too deeply instinctive to be directly overcome. Use the creativity available in mindful states to lead attention in a different direction. Asking a question about something very specific you notice can sometimes relieve tension. Using textures or other sensory input is also helpful. For example:
“Hey. Is the rug fuzzier over there than it is over here? I never noticed that before! Feel that! Am I crazy or is this really true?”
Try to have fun with it, that helps, too. J (And of course, adjust the content of the question to engage the developmental age of your child.)
Now, if you’ve ever practiced mindfulness, you may have noticed that it’s the result more of our conditions than our own good ideas. It kind of comes and goes, seemingly no matter what we do (until we become a monk or a nun in a forest.)
So, in the times when we’re less mindful (and there will be those) we can get into a battle of counterwills. And admittedly, this does hurt.
Here’s some more good news, though, right when you needed it…
In a clearer moment, restored to our caring adult self, we can lead by intentionally modeling acceptance of our own human imperfection, admit that we had acted in a way that didn’t feel very good, remind them of how much we love them, and tell them that we want them to feel safe and strong. (I leave you to your own version of all that.)
And even more great news…
This dance of rupture and repair is part of what nature intends, building the capacity for otherwise vulnerable human beings to live in this harsh, risky environment we call life. If we have the humility to model apology when making mistakes, a lovingly wholesome margin for error gets built into our family culture. Yum. J
Welcome to Stop 4:
Mistakes are part of healthy parenting!
Reviewing the Stops:
1. The first helpful response to counterwill is simply to be aware that it exists.
2. In the moment, the stronger the connection, the weaker the counterwill. The weaker the connection, the stronger the counterwill.
3. You are not alone.
4. Mistakes are part of healthy parenting!
Correction: In the original blog post published on January 18th, 2022, I mistakenly put what's next as "When counterwill arises from the security of your relationship!" You can look forward to that in the following post which will also be our conclusion of the 6-post series. My apologies for the error.