Growing a Self

It can be a shock when our children start asserting themselves as they struggle to become independent. A child who was sweet and cooperative one day can suddenly become downright defiant, resistant and even aggressive the next. And just when we think they have had enough of us, they seek comfort and reassurance.

Maturing is not a one-way street. Kids need permission to individuate, and they need a sense of love and belonging, no matter how prickly they get along the way.

When kids resist doing anything you want them to do, like getting in the car seat, eating a meal or just having a conversation, chances are, they are going through the struggle for independence. The one day you are in a hurry, the three-year-old will insist on putting on their shoes. “I can do it myself!” And heaven help you if you suggest your child do something. “I was just going to do that until you asked!”

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Hold on to your heart when you go to hug your teen, and they pull away with that blank look. Ouch! They seem so allergic to you. “My friends are the only cool people!”

Behind this stage is the need for autonomy and independence. Stifling this need interferes with the development of your child’s ability to differentiate. A high degree of differentiation contributes to healthy adult relationships and good boundaries. They can hear no and say no. They don’t sacrifice themselves to fit in and are less concerned about what people think of them.

Emotional maturity provides calm thoughtfulness that can be brought to life and relationship problems.

When you dig underneath the difficulties and see what is going on, you will be more likely to respond with emotional maturity yourself. Less intensity of feeling and finding your calmness will allow you to love and let go.

What to do:

• Minimize your rules and stick to the ones that matter.

• Give them more choices and say less.

• Reflect their feelings of frustration and their need for independence.

• In the heat of the moment, breathe and deal with things later.

• Ignore the verbal flack; correcting it doesn’t work; it only feeds a negative loop.

• See this as a stage rather than a character flaw; it really will pass.

• Don’t take things so seriously; a little humour can help.

Dr. Allison Rees
Dr. Allison Rees
Dr. Allison Rees is a parent educator, counsellor and coach at LIFE Seminars (Living in Families Effectively).