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“You’re Not the Boss of Me!” How to Turn Your Child’s Counterwill into Purpose

Every parent, at one point or another, finds themself stuck in a conflict with their child. That not-so-rare moment when your daughter stands, shoulders squared, hands on hips, and says: “You’re not the boss of me!”

She’s right. You’re not her boss. You don’t want to use force to exhibit power over her. It’s not the kind of parent you are. You prefer to parent by teaching and guiding. You use your influence lovingly to inspire and inform, like a mentor or wise teacher.

You want your child to have what best serves her in the moment—healthy food, ample sleep, fun experiences—but, in the bigger picture, you also want her to develop the ability to make decisions independently and handle difficult situations that will serve her well into adulthood.

So how do you turn this around? How do you not only resolve the conflict, but inspire your child in a bigger, fuller way? Let me explain.

What Your Child’s Resistance is Telling You

When your child resists your guidance, or your attempts to connect and attach to them, it signals a disconnection, not only from you, but from her inner self. That’s scary for your child. She needs your guidance to re-connect with self and others. You can do this by reflecting back to her ‘who she really is’. By sharing important values and beliefs about her life purpose, you set the foundation for re-connection in a compassionate way.

A child’s resistance also signals that we’re parenting using force, albeit with good intentions, rather than our own personal power. David Hawkins explains that when we stand in our own power, we don’t need to exert effort to influence others. Power is still, and its influence acts like a magnetic field. When we exert force to influence others, the force creates a counterforce that polarizes rather than unifies, hence your child’s disconnection from you.

But how do you stand in your own power? One way is to talk with your child about her purpose, and your role as a parent, in the bigger life picture. This will resonate as “truth” with her inner authentic self, and make the experience meaningful so she shifts back to engaging and learning with you.

4 Steps to Help Your Child Connect To a Bigger, Meaningful Purpose in the World

The first time I did this, my son was about 4 years old. He was resisting what I asked him to do and any attempts to connect with him. I was exasperated. In a moment of frustration and despair, I acknowledged to myself that I truly didn’t want to boss him around. I found myself asking:

  • How do I define my job as his parent?
  • How do I parent in a way that honours his spirit, the essence of who he is inside?
  • How do I honour his spirit, but still make sure he eats enough vegetables, goes to bed at a reasonable hour and we get to appointments on time?

The answer came to me swiftly, and while my logical brain told me he was too young to understand, I was shocked at how quickly he was willing to learn what I was teaching.

Here are four steps you can use to help your child connect to a bigger, meaningful purpose in the world, and how I explained them to my son.

1.  Agree with your child when they tell you, “You’re not the boss of me!”

Here’s what I said to my son:

No, I’m not your boss, and I don’t really want to tell you what to do.

2.  Explain how you see your job as your child’s parent.

Find words and values that feel truthful to you. Remember: your child senses your integrity, and settles by responding to the truth of the bigger picture. Being honest is more important than whether they completely understand the words and concepts you use.

Here’s what I said to my son:

My job is to make sure you have all the things you need to be healthy and well as a child—sleep, nourishing food, love, fun—and also to make sure you learn the skills you need to be a successful grown up. 

3.  Explain your child’s job in terms of their bigger life purpose.

Use your own words, beliefs and observations about who they are—their gifts, abilities, characteristics—and the future you imagine for them.

Here’s what I said to my son:

You were born with a unique set of gifts to do an important job in your life. We all come to the world with our gifts to contribute something valuable and make it a better place. Some of your gifts are that you are observant and you notice details. You are also creative, kind, and sensitive.

Everyone in the world has their own special set of gifts. Your job is to get to know yourself well, develop your skills and abilities, and learn how to use your gifts by trying different
activities to find out what you love. You need to learn things that will help you become a successful adult.

Success means that you’ll have the skills and abilities to lovingly care for yourself and make your contribution to the world. For some of these things you’ll receive something in return, money or other things you need to live, like food and shelter. My job, as your mom, is to help you know yourself and learn the skills you need to be successful in life. That includes learning how to deal with difficult situations.

4.  Remember: if your child resists, they are responding to your use of force.

You need to be the one to stop the cycle so they can follow. Ask yourself: How can I let go while still setting a limit for their safety and well being? How can I stand more in my own power?

The instant turnaround in my son’s behavior was remarkable. I hadn’t expected this to resolve the conflict—I had simply reached the end of my rope and was grasping for a meaningful understanding of our parent-child roles. Suddenly, he was interested in cooperating and joining me on this important journey. In that moment, I showed up with full integrity and the “truth” resonated with the inner essence of who he is. This made the experience meaningful.

Why Creating Meaning and Connection for Your Child Works

Experts like David Hawkins and Michael Ungar help us understand why this approach works. According to David Hawkins, power arises from meaning and some “truths” emerge from sources beyond the individual. When we find ways to talk with our children about bigger “truths”, they sense our integrity and compassion, and they respond, even if they don’t completely comprehend the language and concepts we use.

Michael Ungar says children long to feel a part of something bigger—to know their actions and efforts have value and make a difference in the world. This approach taps into that desire. It reminds them of who they are and gently invites them to consciously step-up, alongside us, on their own path of personal growth and self-mastery. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

So, the next time your child says, “You’re not the boss of me!” give this a try. Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear from you. Please share your comments, questions and experiences below.

 

References:

Hawkins, David R.  (2002). Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior. Carlsbad, California: Hay House, Inc.

Neufeld, Gordon, and Mate, Gabor.  (2004). Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to matter More Than Peers. Toronto:  Random House of Canada, Limited.

Ungar, Michael. (2009). We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart, Ltd.

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