Can’t Versus Won’t

Knowing when to push and when to back off is a difficult balance

Thank you again!

I continue to receive overwhelming response to my recent article, How Parenting Is Like Dog Training. Most of it is very positive, and those who disagree with some of what I wrote are asking intelligent, thought-provoking questions.

I really appreciate the discourse and respectful debate which have stemmed from the article and the reader comments. Thank you all for your interest, and for caring enough to engage in deeper conversations.

As I stressed in my most recent piece, “No Pain No Gain”: Fact or Fiction?, if some comments or questions gets my brain simmering enough to write an entire article to follow-up, then I am all the more appreciative for the inspiration.

When that happens, it is not intended as a “clap back” at anyone’s comment, this is genuine interest and enjoyment I feel when people’s writing, comments, or questions get me thinking more deeply about something.

In reference to the example used in How Parenting Is Like Dog Training, some commenters (justifiably) wondered why we chose to die on that hill. It was a good question and one worth considering, so I did.

I am one who has definitely had difficulty picking my battles in the past. I think I’ve become better at it with maturity (such as it is), however it’s certainly useful to take a step back and engage in introspection, to ask myself whether something is worth fighting over.

I certainly wouldn’t support my son refusing to do anything that didn’t appeal to him. That would probably result in him rarely bathing or brushing his teeth, never eating vegetables, and never completing any schoolwork he deemed “boring”.

I’d end up with a stinky, uneducated tween with bad teeth and malnutrition. That wouldn’t be good for anyone.

Quote by Dr. Ross Greene — (photo by author)

We didn’t choose this hill

The example was relayed with the benefit of hindsight, and after processing all of the information I didn’t have at the time. On the fateful day in question, I didn’t know anything about what went down until afterward, when I received an email from my son’s school.

My son was clearly unable to force himself to comply that day because instead he chose to hide in the locker room. He’s only 10, I don’t think he’d even heard of “skipping” class before that day, so clearly it was distressing enough for him to risk getting in trouble.

As mentioned, my son participates extremely well in 99% of his PE classes, he actually loves it. He’s very active and enjoys sports. Generally speaking, we agree that attending gym class and participating fully is a reasonable requirement.

I failed to mention that we don’t contradict the school in front of our son if at all possible. To my son, I suggested he could have asked to go speak with the Resource Teacher or Guidance Counsellor if he felt truly unable to participate, rather than hiding and refusing to come out when asked.

In my response to the school, I did say, “this isn’t a huge issue for us” because it wasn’t. It still isn’t. Compliance for the sake of compliance is not a healthy example to set or expectation to uphold.

If an adult tells you to jump, you ask ‘how high?’” was exactly the type of messaging I had growing up, but teaching our children to obey an authority figure simply because they’re in a position of power sets a dangerous precedent.

If my son were going around refusing to do things simply because he “didn’t want to” on a regular basis, this would be a completely different set of issues. Because my son generally does what he’s asked at school (these days anyway), it signalled to me that the expectation was beyond his capabilities on that particular day.

What we adults have to remember is that when something like this happens (seemingly) out of the blue, there is usually a reason for it, beyond they “just didn’t want to”. Because we don’t yet know the reason doesn’t mean there isn’t a good one, it simply means we don’t understand their perspective yet.

We’ll never understand their perspective if we double down and apply more pressure, steam-rolling them, and forcing them to do as they’re told. We have to get curious and be willing to listen.

Created by author

I’m not claiming any of this is easy

This is a completely different way of thinking, and hard to wrap one’s mind around at first, and of course, everyone has the right to disagree (I didn’t / wouldn’t have agreed with these sentiments 10 years ago). But this works for us.

Since changing our parenting approach, and teaching the adults in his life about our philosophy, our son has thrived. He went from being suspended in kindergarten, grade 1, 2, and 3 to having almost no issues at school at all in grades 4 and 5 (which he is in currently).

Certainly part of this has to do with maturity, but we’ve seen major growth and changes in all of us — parents included — since changing the way we view and address our son’s behaviour. We’ve had a significant decrease in issues at home as well.

Our son knows we will enforce reasonable expectations and boundaries, but we will always have his back. This way he can be honest with us about what he can and cannot do, and hopefully will not feel the need to hide out in a locker room in the future.

© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB

Related Articles

How Parenting Is Like Dog Training

No Pain No Gain: Fact Or Fiction

Power Trips Lead to Power Struggles

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Greene, Ross, W. (2021). Lost & Found: Unlocking collaboration and compassion to help our most vulnerable, misunderstood students, and all the rest. (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Greene, R. W. (2014). The explosive child: a new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children. Revised and updated. Harper.

Stiffelman, S. (2013). Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising joyful, resilient kids while staying cool, calm, and connected. Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Published by Neurodiversity MB

Jillian has Child and Youth Work diploma as well as a BA in Psychology. Jillian worked on the front lines of Social Services agencies from 2003 - 2012. Jillian has taken numerous continuing education courses and has attended various workshops focused on supporting neurodiverse children, in particular children with ADHD.

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