How To Handle Your Adolescent's CounterwillMay 18, 2021
“This information I'm going to share was inspired and informed through a few courses that I've taken over the last couple of years from the Gordon Neufeld Institute. One of the courses was, ‘Making Sense of Adolescence”’ and another workshop that I took was called, ‘The Counter Will Storm - Making Sense of Teen Resistance.’"
This week on the 3D Parent Podcast, we will be talking about the concept of counterwill during adolescence.
Throughout the episode, we’re going to share tips and suggestions that can help you navigate all of the particular ways your child may exhibit counterwill.
Some of the topics that we will cover include:
- The basics of what counterwill is, why it occurs most often during adolescence and what scenarios can trigger it.
- Strategies you can use to manage your children’s counterwill and prevent it from growing bigger than your relationship with them.
- Tips on how to cope with counterwill if you have more than one child at home.
I hope these tips will help you get through this stage of your child’s development with as little hiccups as possible. Don’t hesitate to reach out on the website if you have any parenting questions!
Things You Will Learn
[00:39] “Counterwill” wasn’t a term in the English language until it was coined by Austrian psychologist Otto Rank and popularized by Dr. Gordon Neufeld who translated it into English. “Counterwill” is a natural instinct to resist feeling coerced. It allows you to resist following the will of another person, particularly one with whom you’re not connected or attached to.
[01:38] Though counterwill is about resisting the feeling of being pressured or coerced, it becomes problematic when your adolescent experiences this instinctive feeling toward their parents, teachers or other authority figures. Counterwill is meant to offer protection or self-preservation. For adolescents, though, counterwill is also part of what prepares them to become independent, fully-functioning adults.
[03:15] Adults can experience counterwill as well, and anyone can experience counterwill internally. People counterwill with themselves at times, for instance, when they know that they have to do something yet struggle with not wanting to do it. As a result, they’ll push off the task until they can’t push it off anymore.
[04:57] Why do we see an increase in this counterwill during adolescence? Let’s think about what’s happening to an adolescent during this time. Because they are crossing the bridge from childhood to adulthood, your kids can act more childlike at times and more adults at others. Similarly, they can sometimes feel like following your lead as a parent and sometimes want to resist and make their own decisions.
[07:16] Another reason why counterwill often takes place during the teenage years is because this is when children become more critical of the world around them. They also become more idealistic, self-critical and self-conscious, and start developing their own points of view. Equally important, they begin to reflect more about who they are, who they are becoming, and who they want to be. Because teenagers have a natural instinct to become more autonomous at this time, they also often become reclusive and spend more time by themselves.
[09:42] The good news here is, counterwill is actually a sign of maturation in your child, even if it’s not always pleasant to be on the receiving end of it as a parent. The bad news is that counterwill can be really challenging to navigate as a parent. While your children may have been willing to follow your lead without a lot of pushback during their childhood, the opposite is often the case as they reach adolescence.
[11:23] So how do we deal with our kids’ counterwill and prevent it from growing bigger than our relationship with them? First and foremost, don’t forget to show enjoyment and affection in being with your teenager, even if you’re not necessarily receiving those emotions back. Equally important, don’t forget to hug and show delight in your older children. After all, it’s our job to keep our kids close to us, even when they’re acting less than lovable. It’s still our job to not forget, neglect or ignore them.
[13:19] Another tip for dealing with counterwill is to slow down your interactions. Sometimes, we might get into the habit of being very brisk in our parenting or barking orders without having a warm-up conversation first. Especially before making a request, I’d encourage you to warmly talk with your adolescents. You can ask them what they’re working on right now or talk about their latest interests. In short, you need to look at your own behavior and how you’re communicating with your teenager, making sure that you’re not communicating in a commanding tone.
[20:36] if you’re experiencing a lot of counterwill with your adolescent, another helpful strategy is making room for all the emotions your child is likely experiencing. Remember that they’re acting out what they’re feeling inside, and that these huge roller coasters of emotions are temporary.
[21:40] On a related note, one more thing that can be helpful is for you to ask for a do-over and give your child physical space. If a conversation is not going well with your child, rather than coerce your kid into doing something, take some time and give both of you a little bit of space. Once you’ve had some time apart, ask your child why you’re getting a hard no. Most likely, you’ll have a helpful conversation about the experience and things will turn around. You should also learn how to be a better listener to your teenagers. By doing less talking and more listening, you can invite more communication from your teen.
[23:51] When handling and dealing with counterwill from your children, I’d also recommend that you encourage their emerging self. Again, counterwill is present because kids are emerging and becoming who they’re going to be. So, encourage that energy from your children and let them share their views and perspectives. They may not have the same perspective that you do as an adult, but that doesn’t mean that their views and perspectives are not worth listening to.
[26:48] Adolescence can be a challenging time for a family. However, it’s important to remember that this time is temporary and a sign of maturation. And having a better experience with this stage really comes down to understanding what counterwill is and how you can make things go more smoothly for your children and yourself.
Find out more about the Gordon Neufeld Institute here
Quotes From Episode 30
"I've mentioned this a few times before: think of your teen at times when they're being real prickly as a porcupine. A porcupine is not hard and prickly through its entire self. There is a soft core inside."
"I've talked about this concept of “collect before direct” or “connect before direct,” and it holds true with the adolescent as well. Don't just go straight to your child with your agenda and demand that they do certain things without actually spending time with your child."
"Do not use a demanding or commanding tone with your child. That will immediately put them into counterwill. I've had to call myself out or my teenagers have called me out on this before."
"If you're always addressing your child and trying to get them to follow your will by force or coercion, you're going to experience an increase in counterwill. If you're experiencing a lot of it, you need to work on the relationship. You need to focus less on you trying to get your will forced upon your child and more on connecting, relating, and finding things that you enjoy together."
"Finding ways that you can connect with kids, your teenagers, your adolescents can be really helpful. I've also found it helpful to go back and return to some activities that my older children enjoyed doing when they were younger."
"When you're dealing with counterwill, resist the temptation to react in a way that could make it more permanent. You don't want to make this permanent, so don't react in a way that could make it so. Also, remind yourself that this period of time is temporary. It again is instinctive, instinctual for your adolescent child, and it does not last forever."
"If you have more than one child or even if you only have one child in your home, empower them to be leaders by taking on a role. Ask them to do something and let them do it their way without you jumping in and micromanaging them. They may do it differently than you would, but that's okay if you empower them to lead."
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