You can't make me

When you hear this phrase, it's most often associated with the 'naughty child' - the child who won't do what they're told.

Except, that child is absolutely spot on.

Recently, there has been increased criticism around the authoritarian modes of parenting that many of us are familiar with. The role of parents as the rule makers and the punishment givers. Every day I read a new article challenging this way of parenting, as we start to move towards a more thoughtful and mindful way of bringing up children.

I have no affiliation with any particular 'brand' of parenting, because I believe we all do things in our way and anyone who calls themselves consistent in their parenting style has probably been a hypocrite at some point, which is also absolutely okay too.

But, what I think is really interesting is how, by listening carefully to our children (especially the ones who were once labelled as 'naughty'), we can uncover some other truths.

When somebody says 'you can't make me', it is seen as an act of defiance or rebellion. To the given rules. Society's guidelines. Laws we have created. It's probably said to a parent who is at the end of their tether. And probably has nowhere to go, unless use of force is involved.

Because, it's absolutely true. Nobody makes anybody think or feel anything. You can't MAKE me feel or be anything.

I have started becoming really aware of how often people use this word. So aware of it that I find myself counting how many times people use it in conversation. I've started looking out for it (so watch out if you have a conversation with me!). It's become a bit addictive, but it's out of the fascination for how we all perceive the world as humans. And despite the weird obsession, I still hear myself saying it too.

'She makes me so angry'.

'Don't make your brother cry'

'That makes me so happy'

'It makes me sad to hear that'

'I've made her upset'

Every day, we find situations/people/objects outside of us that seem to make us feel a particular way.

We tell our children not to make others' upset or angry.

We attach meaning to the thoughts and feelings that we have, connecting them to particular events.

We look at others and believe that they are the ones making us feel like this. It's their fault.

Of course it's not.

Our children don't make anybody feel anything. We don't make anybody feel anything. Nothing outside of us makes us feel or do anything.

But it can definitely feel like that.

We also know though, that no matter what happens to us, we will all respond differently. No human responds in exactly the same way to an event. Nobody is right and nobody is wrong.

A traffic jam 'makes' us angry. No, the traffic jam is just a traffic jam.

Our thoughts about the traffic jam are what has led to the feelings we have.

A child screams in another childs' face and the second child begins to cry.

Has the child 'made' them cry. Absolutely not. The first child has screamed. The second child has cried.

Nobody has made anyone do anything.

It doesn't mean we don't teach our children not to scream in each others' faces, but we don't need to tell them that they 'made' someone else feel a particular way. Because that's simply not true. And maybe not all that helpful if we want to teach our children to connect with themselves and acknowledge their own thoughts and feelings more, rather than constantly blaming something or somebody else.

If we teach our children that it is the external circumstances that cause us to feel particular ways, we have to start changing those external circumstances to make the situation easier to deal with.

We have to start trying to remove 'triggers' or adjust the reality of life. Which is impossible. And trying to do so is really hard work.

So, do we blame ourselves for reacting in a particular way then? Do we tell ourselves and our children to 'toughen up' or develop greater resilience to brush off difficult situations they encounter.

Well no, that's not particularly helpful either. Because we and our children will still feel the sadness, anger, frustration, happiness, get the idea.

We can't help the way we feel. We can't stop or control thoughts that we have. We can't change them or make them more positive.

But we can notice them, acknowledge them and know they will pass.

We can identify them - without the need to explain 'why' or what the thoughts and feelings might be connected to - and be okay with them. We can give them all the equal status they deserve as human experiences, but also acknowledge that they don't define who we are. And they certainly aren't permanent.

We can still get angry at the traffic jam, but also acknowledge that the anger is an emotion that will fade in a moment or two. We don't need to stifle it or dwell on it. It's okay to feel it.

We can still feel upset if someone shouts in our face and acknowledge that it isn't a very kind thing to do, but also know that it doesn't make up who that person is. And (if the children are anything like my two), the moment will pass as quickly as it arises.

So, as we start to question the use of the term 'naughty', maybe we could also be questioning the truth behind what that traditional 'naughty' child was trying to say all along...

You can't make me.

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