I’m very aware of the fact that the way I parent, is quite different from the vast majority of people, and this post is really no different.
Last week I talked about freedom and responsibility, and then when it comes to kids, they need to be in equal quantities. So the child who has shown responsibility, is granted more freedom, and the vice versa.
That’s fairly easy to work out with an older child. Logical consequences are easier to dish out when you know the person in question has a clear understanding of their actions, and it’s easier to explain why certain freedoms have been removed, and how they can be earnt back.
But how do you do it with a tiny person?
It can be a lot trickier.
To me, there is one clear indicator of a growing level of responsibility and willingness to comply in a toddler, and it is the ability to deal with a lack of choice.
Yep. You read that right. And this is where I’m going against the cutural grain.
We’ve all been led to believe that granting kids the ability to choose reduces the need for conflict, and makes everyone happier. This may, to a certain extent be true. The only problem is, that at some point, a parent is going to need to exercise their authority, and choice will not be an option, and for the child addicted to having a say in everything, this is torture.
I’ve alluded to this is in the past in a couple of different posts, but I’m just being frank today. The power of making their own choices, on a consistent basis, gives a young child a false sense of power and entitlement. It literally has them believing that they are the boss.
On the flip side, a child who is offered few choices, learns to accept that their parents have the final say when it comes to pretty much everything.
Most major issues that parents have, in my experience, can be traced back to a child that has a lot of freedom to choose during the course of the day. Food issues and sleep issues are two major things that parents of toddlers deal with daily, but these struggles, can be eliminated. The fact of the matter is, that the same issues occur all day long, but we often don’t notice them, because the power struggles and negotiations occur over things that don’t really bother us. Such as what shoes they wear, what cup they use, and whether they read this book or that one.
As parents it is imperative that we realise that there is no difference to the toddler between the choice between Playschool and Peppa Pig, and Veggies or Fairy Bread, apart from our reaction. They have a preference, and they will fight us over their choice.
Now this doesn’t mean that we should never allow the tiny people to choose anything. Choice is something that needs to be learnt, and practiced. (Ever met one of those people who just can’t make a decision?) However prior to that, our kiddies need to learn something even more important; to listen, obey and follow our instructions, with a happy heart. So when we say we are reading this story, it needs to be understood that this is not the basis for a negotiation on how many, and which particular author we will be perusing today. It means, this story.
Introducing this concept with a toddler, who is addicted to choice, is not easy. There is going to be conflict and lots of it. You’re taking away a freedom that they so desperately crave, and they won’t understand why. When I have realised that my kids have had far too much freedom to choose, I have explained it to them, in a toddler friendly way.
“We’re going to practice listening to mummy, and doing just what she says.’ And then follow through. You need to Say what you Mean, and Mean what you Say. When my toddlers have disagreed with my choice, I have given them one other option; go and sit on your bed.
You can read this story mummy chose, or you can miss out. Plain and simple.
Obviously they are not happy, but after two to three days, I am having less fights everywhere. They are eating better, sleeping better, and we are both happier because there is far less conflict over the things that are non-negotiable.
One of the best things I was ever told, about freedom and choice with small people is this:
If they don’t need a choice, they’re ready to have a choice.
It sounds backwards, but the basic premise is that a child who is willing to accept no, and listen without a fight, is now responsible enough to have the freedom to make some choices.
A quick note: A lot of people say, ‘I tell my kids they can have a choice between two things.” That works really well with some kids, but not with others. Some are quite happy to toe the line, and others will try to negotiate no matter what you offer them. Just be aware, that if you are having a lot of issues elsewhere, this may be something you need to revisit for a time.
How do you feel about choices for kids?