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Making Sense of Counterwill

What is Counterwill?

Counterwill can take many forms. It can present itself as the reactive ‘no’ of the toddler, the ‘you aren’t my boss’ of the preschooler, as balkiness when hurried, as disobedience or defiance, or even as laziness or lack of motivation. It can manifest itself in a working to rule, in procrastination, or in doing the opposite of what is expected. It can be expressed as passivity, negativity or argumentativeness. It can be experienced by an adult as insolence or belligerence. It can create a preoccupation with taboo or antisocial attitudes within a child. When pervasive and severe, the child is incorrigible and may qualify for a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. It is such a universal phenomenon at certain stages of development that it has given rise to the terms ‘terrible two’s’ and ‘rebellious teens’. Despite the myriad of manifestations, the underlying dynamic is deceptively simple – a defensive reaction to felt coercion.

This material applies to all ages and all settings including:

  • parents with children from toddlerhood to adolescence;
  • early childhood educators;
  • teachers and assistants working with students from K to 12;
  • helping professionals working with all ages

The counterwill dynamic is something every parent and teacher should be familiar with. If this dynamic is not understood or if it is taken personally, our reactions to increase coercion can be counterproductive as well as damaging to the relationship. Defiance is a crippling dynamic in the school system, causing children to become passive in their learning, to work to rule, to procrastinate and to resist doing the bidding of their teachers. Children who are stuck developmentally and who are not attached properly are daunting to deal with because of their elevated counterwill instincts. If counterwill is not understood, our typical reactions actually exacerbate the problem.

The earlier one becomes familiar with counterwill, the better. The parenting of toddlers and preschoolers goes much better with a working knowledge of this dynamic. This material is also suitable as a course for general audiences and as professional development for educators and for teaching assistants. The material is particularly suitable for those that work with children that are difficult to manage.


For a full course description and outline, please see the Neufeld Institute website.

Can’t wait for a course and want some answers now?

See our PDF file tutorial on the Strong Willed, Defiant, Alpha Child.

Course Outline

This facilitated videocourse is formatted into 4 one-hour sessions with one hour discussion after each video segment. It can be held over one day, or can be spread out over 4 weeks, or some variation of this to suit the requirements of the individual organisation.

Registration Details

This course is offered for group bookings.  Minimum of 10 persons are required for a group.  Cost is $150 per person.

Course Coordinator

Kaye McKean

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