Nobody Wins A Battle Of Wills

Because you’re in charge, because you’re so much bigger and stronger and smarter, it’s easy to get trapped into a battle of wills with your kids. Don’t do that or else! Because I said so. Oh, you think it’s like that, do you? We put our foot down. We tell them how it’s going to be. We argue. Sometimes, at the very, very end of our rope, we lock them in their room.

Maybe we think this is what authority is, that it’s about force. That it’s about asserting dominance or control. Of course, this is wrong, not just morally but factually. It’s one of the most enduring myths of history, propagated by movies and stories, that wars are won and lost by two great armies going head-to-head in battle.

In fact, in a study of 30 conflicts comprising more than 280 campaigns from ancient to modern history, the historian B. H. Liddell Hart found that in only 6 of the 280 campaigns was a decisive victory the result of a direct attack on the enemy’s main army. Only six. That’s 2 percent.

Instead, most wars—like most arguments and most matters in life—are won indirectly. They’re won creatively. They’re not matters of full force going against full force, but about finding another way around, a way to really get through. Sometimes they’re won by delay, sometimes by surprise, other times by feints or alliances. And so it should go with your kids. You’re not going to yell them into listening. You’re going to have to find where they’re vulnerable. You’re not going to get them to calm down by force, but by realizing that they’re hungry…or need to be tired out. You’re not going to get them to stop being afraid by logic, you’ll have to change their perspective.

Nobody wins a battle of wills. Every victory is Pyrrhic. So get creative. Stop throwing yourself against a wall. Protect both combatants. Don’t attack head-on.

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