DEPENDANCE AND COUNTERWILL; These are Both POSITIVE!
You have probably heard it before that within attachment we need to foster dependence from our kids to develop independence. I imagine, this might seem confusing, counter intuitive even. According to Neufeld (Hold onto Your Kids, 2013), when our babies/kids are dependent on us it puts the adult in the seat of control. Now, when I say control this does not mean in a dictatorship kind of way but in a way of creating security.
Have the caregiver in the power position allows for a hierarchy to develop. The purpose for this is that you become a reliable provider to meet their needs. This includes having limits and boundaries. It is through this dynamic that trust is created. Only once this occurs will the child be in position to respond to the caregiver. It also creates a sense of safety and comfort which allows curiosity and growth.
Have you ever noticed in your own family or as an observer kids are more responsive to some people over other people? This is because of the relationship, trust and reliability that has been established through attachment dependence. Children who are attached are more likely to share with, seek comfort from, and follow direction from their attachment figure.
So, what is the opposite of this? Counterwill.
If you have seen toddlers or teenagers you have likely seen counterwill. According to Neufeld (2013) counterwill is a defense mechanism and instinctual reaction to perceived control or force. If you take a moment for self-reflection, can you think of an example where you felt pressured or forced to do something and this made you not want to do it? This was counterwill. Now as adults, we have developed enough skills to manage and follow through anyways but we cannot expect this from our kids. I have been in situations where I has seen adults make comments to kids along the lines of “we all do things we do not want to”. Which is true, don’t get me wrong, but it is also a concept beyond the years of young children and some teens.
So what do we do about this? We attach! Relationship is the response to counterwill. When we see counterwill in action we often see it as a negative, when it also serves a very healthy purpose. When kids engage in counterwill, what they are saying is that they will not follow orders from people whom they are not attached. Its protective. It helps deter influence from outside the attachment relationships. Now think forward to your teen. Imagine they attached to you in a way that that peer and other influences do not have to be as big of a concern. This would be the ultimate parenting win.
So, engaging in a dependent, healthy attachment relationship from early on can flourish into something lifelong. As our children get older and spend less time with us and more time out in the world with other potential influences we want to have the attachment foundation to be the safe comfort for them to seek when things are challenging.