„Oh no, then they’ll do as they please…“ The Child’s Will
I often hear people say “kids can’t have their will; then they’d do as they please!” meaning “if the kids have their way, chaos will ensue” “kids can’t just do as they please!”
Why do people assume the intent of the child is always mischievous, bad or in need of correction?
Children’s wills have had a bad reputation throughout recent history, ranging from behaviorists calling to break it, the church naming willfulness devil’s work etc.
This mentality has obviously kept their hold on people and even sneaks its way into Radical Unschooling groups. If children (or people in general) do as they please, the outcome must by no means be ridiculous. Children would possibly do things we (or, let’s say most people) wouldn’t enjoy seeing, like for instance using the garden hose to make a huge muddy puddle in the middle of the lawn and go from stamping in it to sitting in it to sliding in it.
If children did as they please they would play and experiment and learn. They may do tricky or dangerous things we think would surpass their abilities, but we may find they master them with sovereignty. Doing as they please may mean they try out different containers to eat out of and then decide a plate is better. Doing as they please could mean beginning guitar lessons, then quickly changing to piano. Doing as they please means acting autonomously in contradicting conform and conservative thinking.
It would be chaos, it would be anarchy… well yes; children are quite the anarchists if we let them be. And contrary to popular assumptions, there is nothing bad or wrong, or even chaotic or selfish about it. Childhood is the time for people to try things out, find out their likes and dislikes, find out what effect their causation has.
We aren’t talking Laissez Faire here (check out my article “is un-raising un-parenting”); we are right there to support our children’s learning and decisions, offer our advice and of course use our mass of life experience and knowledge to prevent dangerous situations.
When it comes to “then they’ll do as they please” we are rarely talking “then my kid would climb to the top of a tree and not stop before I tell him to – the branches wouldn’t be able to support him and he would fall”. It’s more “then my kid wouldn’t take a nap at the designated time” or “then my kid would direct his attention to another subject, when he is supposed to learn what I am teaching”. These things all concern the child directly and belong to his or her personal responsibility (read more about responsibility here). When we control this, the result is a lack of intrinsic motivation and self-regulatory abilities, and a forced, artificial dependency that the child may or may not accept.
For us it could be inconveniencing, having our children gallivant around, doing as they please. We learn a lot about being flexible and we figure out our true personal boundaries after a fair share of self-reflection. We learn to tidy up with a smile, feeling joyful at our children’s games. We learn what it means to respect a person, whatever age they may be. We learn to share our knowledge of social-responsibility and what-not with our children in a calm manner, usually (if you’re not fresh out of the behavior-modifying-crew; if you are read this) being met with cooperation and interest.
The will of a child is their motivation to become an independent, able person and drives them to be daring, curious and inventive. When a will can’t be exercised, people become stagnant, bored and irritable. Human beings crave autonomy and also community and attachment (I would like to highlight the fact that children have the same need as adults in this respect) – but why should we have to choose one over the other? This is a perfect example for how immensely important attachment is and how children cooperate to the extent of harming themselves, all for the sake of our esteem.
When we don’t intervene with methods of behavior modification and move from a “Mummy, am I allowed to do that?” to a “Mummy, do you think I could do that?” place, then our opinions and estimations will be trusted and valued. Furthermore our children will be asking themselves “can I do that?” and exercising and developing their self-assessment, self-worth, self-confidence and self-esteem, rather than looking to us for judgement and receiving our permission.
People have been conditioned to be fearful of what might happen if they weren’t consistent in child-raising; children are seen as strange creatures that require rigid rules and boundaries (read “do children need boundaries?” here), rather than personal connection – say one wrong thing and their world implodes. This is outdated and false. Children thrive in authentic environments that are unique to their person and those surrounding them. They thrive when they can trust their nearest and dearest, knowing they are secure in their attachments and relationships, knowing they are supported, knowing they can ask anything and receive a truthful answer from an experienced adult, rather than a made-up reason for why something is forbidden. They have the need for an authentic partnership, much as we do.
In the end it’s not up to us to treat our children as objects, commanding and forbidding where we see fit, but rather our place as parents to accompany and support them, and above all protect them when need be.
Their will is not our enemy. Their will is strong, inventive, unwavering, daring, curious, original, audacious, and at times even excessive, inappropriate and inconvenient.
But experiences cannot be passed on to others, and so our children will have to make a lot of their own. Our opinions will be well-met and our protection and forethought most happily accepted, but it is never up to us to decide whether or not someone may do as they please or not. And it’s most certainly an act of oppression to assume the worst if a group of people governed their own will.
This is the traditionalist attitude that I am calling out. Children are not so different from adults; they are younger and haven’t experienced a lot. Let’s not take away their first means of protection (us as caregivers) by forcing them to live their autonomy behind our backs and just acting to please us! Let us realize that the need for autonomy in partnership is quite similar to the need most of us tend.
Children shouldn’t have to fulfill conditions in order to have their need met; they should never feel indebted to us and should have the chance to exercise their will and find a balance in doing so, rather than being controlled by methods of behavior modification, such as they are found in mainstream child-raising.
I invite you to take your liberty and join the revolution!