There is nothing more frustrating and demoralizing for a parent than to give an order and have the child do the exact opposite. It triggers anger, doubt, and even fear of the child because mom and dad feel like they have lost control and that the kid is somehow in charge. Honoring one's parents is one of the most fundamental principles of Judaism; in fact it is one of the 10 commandments. So if the child is in a seemingly perpetual state of defiance, parents might wonder what kind of "monster" they have created. However, that anxiety can be greatly reduced by understanding that this dynamic is natural and can be remedied very easily. It is the expression of a G‑d given instinct called counter-will.

G‑d created counter-will to protect primary attachments – parent/child, spouses, siblings. We would certainly want our child to have a visceral, negative reaction to a strange man telling her to get in his car. I once saw a young mother and her toddler in a store. A complete stranger approached them and loudly proclaimed, "What an adorable child! Come here, sweetheart," followed by an unsolicited pinch on the child's cheek. The child immediately jerked away and clutched his mother. The lady then said, "My, he's not very friendly, is he?" and the mother was left to apologize for her son's "rude" behavior. I wanted to shout, "Stop apologizing, Mom! He did exactly what he was supposed to do. He's obviously attached to you and this lady is a fool." When a person to whom we do not feel attached tells us to do something, we experience an imperative to do the exact opposite.

How does this play out in the parent-child relationship? The depth and vitality of our children's attachment to us allows us to direct them without their realizing it, instead of micromanaging their every move. We need to take advantage of every opportunity throughout the day - even seemingly small ones - to draw our children close and strengthen that innate primary connection. They are less likely to display counter-will when they are experiencing a secure attachment to us.

From a developmental perspective, small children can attach to only one thing at a time; they do not have a conscious sense of being attached to mom and dad while playing with blocks, watching a video, etc. Therefore, if I call out to my four-year-old while she is engaged in an activity, "We're going! Put on your shoes!" without first reaffirming her attachment to me, she may feel instinctively compelled to throw her shoes out the window or hide behind the couch. However, I can catch my child's attention and reconnect by entering her space and interacting on her level. It sounds something like this: "Wow, that's a beautiful block castle you're building. I also loved to build with blocks when I was a kid," and then casually add, "You know, we're leaving in a couple of minutes. Please take one more minute to finish up and then get your shoes on." I gave her a bridge to transition from what she is focused on back to what I need her to do. She is now much more likely to follow my instructions than to hide her shoes or yell at me. This may seem like a daunting approach at first, and one that will burn out parents very quickly. But it is useful to think of it as a progression in which there is an initial active training phase (for both parent and child) that quickly transitions into an easier, sustainable and more fluid process.

Defusing counter-will by increasing attachment is an easy way to regain dignity as parents. We can even use it to progress in our own spiritual development. We are more likely to want to follow G‑d's will when we feel attached to Him. Therefore, He gives us numerous opportunities every day to connect – through the mitzvot (commandments). The root of the word mitzvah is tzavsa, which means to connect or join with. We come closer to G‑d and deepen our spirituality by simply doing a mitzvah. Because G‑d knows that we are primed to do His will when we feel connected to Him, He gives us many opportunities to connect throughout the day and around the year. Therefore, if we want our children to follow our practical and moral guidance, we should emulate the Creator and draw them close before making our demands.