In a very real sense parenting young children is about power. Someone needs to be in charge and by dint of your life experience and the fact that you’re an adult, with the rights and privileges that go along with your station, that someone has got to be you. So the question that remains is not if the power relationship enters into the parental relationship but how and for what ends you are going to wield this power.
It’s an unfortunate reality that when children start to assert themselves they are crushed by many parents, more or less brutally, called ‘willful’, ‘defiant’. They’re subjected to all forms of aversive stimuli until their self-assertion goes away, to be replaced with obedience. The problem with such a situation is that parents are down in the trenches with their children, seeing things at the superficial level as a battle of wills that they cannot afford to lose.
But psychologically speaking we can see willful behavior from young children as the first, tentative steps of individuality, the rising conscious awareness of being separate organisms with unique needs and wants. For a supposedly individualistic culture it’s sadly ironic that many parents freak out at the first signs of this individuality and promptly set out to eradicate it.
Like we said at the top the parental power relationship is unavoidable, the question is how to wield this power and for what ends. Crushing individuality by punishing all disobedience is putting your power to destructive uses. When we view things objectively it becomes obvious that what these children need is to be directed towards healthy channels where they can express themselves and what they’re going through, to have someone listen to them and open up a space to talk to them about all the confusing thoughts and emotions that are suddenly rising up. Their worldviews and conceptions of themselves are changing, this is the existential origin of their willful behavior, and this is where they need to be helped not punished. Giving them this help is a form of power too, used not for the purposes of subjugation but for expansion.