One a month on a Friday, I run a mums group called GEMS (Godly Encouragement for MumS) which is just a casual group of mums who subscribe to the same kind of parenting ethos, and catch up to have coffee, let the kids play, and talk mum stuff.
As you do.
Last Friday was the first one we had for the year, and at some point, the conversation came around to the topic of choices. More specifically, how many choices should the little people have?
It reminded me of a story we had heard when doing our first patenting course, and one I had been thinking about lately, in regards to Ava’s behaviour.
Let’s call it ‘Red Cup, Blue Cup.’
The morning dawns bright and clear, and Mrs Smith holds high hopes for the day with her two and half year old boy Sammy.
Whilst he is sitting at the table, she gets breakfast ready.
‘Weetbix today, Sam,’ she says, opening the pantry.
‘No. no weetbix, toast,’ Sam adamantly replies.
‘Oh you would like toast today? No worries, Toast with Jam it is.’
‘No Jam. Behemite.’
‘Vegemite? Ok, no worries.’
Mrs Smith sets out about making the toast with Vegemite, and then gets the red cup out of the drawer.
‘Blue cup mummy,’ Sam calls from the table.
‘What’s the magic word Sammy?’
‘Good boy,’ replies his mum replacing the red cup with the blue, and getting the juice out of the fridge.
‘No juice mummy. Milk please.’
‘Beautiful manners Sam,’ she says, smiling whilst she gets out the milk. It is much healthier after all.
The morning progresses.
Sammy’s mum takes out the cars, but he asks for the blocks, so she gets those instead. After they play, she picks out a story and asks him to sit on her lap. He gets his favourite book from the shelf and sits next to her. She is sick of reading this story but it makes him so happy, and he has been so compliant this morning she reads it ‘just once ok.’
Once turns into three times, but that’s ok. Stories are good for kids.
Soon it’s lunch time. Sammy is back at the table, whilst she prepares his lunch. She cuts his cheese sandwich in squares, not triangles as asked, and gets out the blue cup. ‘Red cup please mummy,’ Sammy asks.
She obliges, taking him his drink and kissing his head. ‘You have been such a good boy today Sam.’
Lunch is finished, his hands are washed, and Mrs Smith is looking forward to having a little relax whilst Sam has his sleep. She is quite convinced it will be an easy task today because he has been so well behaved.
‘C’mon Sam, bed time!’ she calls.
‘No! No bed! Play with cars!’
‘No darling, it’s sleeping time now. You can play with your cars after your rest.’
‘No! Play now!’
‘Ok. You can play for five minutes, and then it’s bed time ok?’
She is happy, she has averted the crisis and been fair. He will be fine in five minutes.
But he’s not.
He refuses to tidy up, and go to bed, and in the end, his exhausted and upset mother, puts him in there, shuts the door, feels awful, and wonders where on earth she went wrong. He had been so good all morning, why did all of a sudden things change?
This story is a classic example of what happens in many homes every day. It certainly happens in ours. Mum makes lots of small compromises during the day, which are completely harmless except for one small thing; the message it sends.
Look at the story again.
She said weetbix, he said toast.
She said jam, he said vegemite.
She said red cup, he said blue.
She said juice, he said milk.
She said cars, he said blocks.
She said this book, he said that one.
She said sit here, he sat there.
She said one time, he said three.
She said triangles, he said squares.
She said blue cup, he said red.
She said bed time, he said no.
In Sammy’s mind, this is not defiance; it’s perfect sense. He has been making the decisions all day. He has had a say in everything. It’s only natural he should have a say in this.
A lot of ‘all of a sudden’ behaviours don’t come all of a sudden. They come slowly as we release all the power to the tiny humans, and suddenly they decide to exercise it.
Choice is a great thing, but it is also a powerful thing, and power should not be given lightly.
I know I definitely need to work on taking some of it back.