Battlefield of the Will

Posted by on Apr 29, 2012 in Bug & Bear, Mental Health | 2 comments

Battlefield of the Will

A 3 1/2 year old and a 16 month old live at my house, so a lot of my life centers around watching little people’s wills emerge. Sometimes it’s cute, like when my Bear insists on pulling her big sister in the wagon all by herself. Or the time my Bug, in an effort to help her distraught little sister reach something she couldn’t get while I was driving the car said, “Don’t worry, Mommy, I’ve got this. I HAVE A PLAN!” That’s cute, I thought, not paying a ton of attention…next thing I knew she had unbuckled her car seat straps, stood up, and was climbing into the front seat as we traveled down the freeway.

Sometimes it’s maddening, like when they have tantrums in public places, or scream because I don’t understand them, or yell, “NO!” when I ask them to do something.

Mostly it’s just messy. I know I don’t want to squash their little wills, but finding the balance between giving them some practice making choices and experiencing consequences, yet needing them to listen and be obedient so I can keep them safe can be challenging. Especially because sometimes a little person with a lack of judgement and no life experience wildly screaming NO!!! in an act of complete defiance kinda pushes my buttons. And because sometimes other people look on with disapproving stares, or even comments, when the children aren’t being the most charming versions of themselves.

So I was thankful for this reminder the other day that I want my children to have a strong enough will to make good choices even if I’m not there to do it for them… I want them to do the messy work of learning who they are, how to make decisions for themselves, and that choices have consequences even if it inconveniences me at times…and I don’t want them to learn blind obedience to all adults.

We were playing at the park and my social butterfly Bug had, as usual, quickly made a friend with whom she was playing. After some time, the friend became frustrated with Bug because she wasn’t playing chase the way he wanted her to. The child’s grandmother approached me and pointed out that Bug was playing the game incorrectly. I agreed, but didn’t intervene…with so many opportunities in a day for power struggles and battles of the will, I generally see the park as a place she can make her own choices and find her own way in friendships without my intervention as long as no one is in danger. When I didn’t get involved, the grandmother started trying to call to Bug…

Grandmother, calling my child by name: “Come here! I want to tell you something!”

Me, quietly observing, wanting to see how my Bug would respond to this stranger.

Bug: “No thank you!”

Grandmother, again calling her by name: “Come here! I need to tell you a secret! Don’t you want to hear a secret?!”

Me, thinking to myself, I know this woman isn’t trying to sound creepy but she does, I wonder what Bug will do.

Bug, crossing her arms, looking directly at the woman, and using a firm tone: “NO! I’m busy!”

In that moment I realized that my Bug’s will could save her life. Now she definitely needs help using it for good and not evil, but I recognize that the same will that can get her into trouble is also what will keep her out of trouble. I can think of many situations, both at this stage and in the future, in which I definitely want my child to scream NO!

After we left the park, on the car ride home, I told my Bug how proud I was of her for saying no at the right time in the right way. We talked about times you say no and times you say yes. I explained that if a stranger says something to her like, “Come here, I want to tell you a secret/give you something,” that’s a time to say NO. Or if anybody asks her to do something that scares her or would hurt her, that’s a time to say NO. On the other hand, if mommy or daddy asks her to do something then that’s a time to say YES because we ask her to do things to keep her safe. Or if her teacher at preschool asks her to do something that’s part of her jobs at school, like cleaning up, or washing her hands, or sharing a toy, that’s also a time to say YES. I know she doesn’t completely understand yet but I’m confident that one day she will, and I will sleep just a little easier at night knowing that my daughter knows the right time and the right way to say NO.



Hear her roar!



  1. thanks for the nice post.

  2. Thank you so much!

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