Getting kids to do what they're told (and in a timely manner) can be one of the biggest headaches in parenting. You know the routine: Ask little Johnny to do something, he ignores you, messes around or throws a fit. You get mad, get loud, threaten, demand and finally there’s compliance.
Last night we visited friends who are in PA camping for the month. As she and I sat inside discussing the cool features of their new RV our son, excited to see the new unit, wanted to romp around. This was our conversation:
“We must respect their home. You have two choices: stay in here with us and sit quietly or go outside with the guys and romp all you want.”
Since this is new territory for all of us he was quick to respond with a negotiation. (He’s got that skill down well!) I held firm to the choices and he decided to go outside.
Instead of fighting with him, grabbing his arm and making him comply I offered a choice. I didn't want a power struggle, I wanted peaceful compliance so I offered a choice.
Why Choices Work
Thinking about your day, how often do you give your child a command? Likely, it’s more often than you think. We may package the words nicer than this but here are several ways we command our children every day:
- Get up
- Get dress
- Eat breakfast
- Brush your teeth
- Don’t do that/touch that/
- Put it away
- Get it out
- Sit down
- Do this chore, do that chore
- No candy
- No junk food
- Be quiet
- Take a nap
- Do your homework/schoolwork
- Get a bath
- Get to bed
Those are just a few I can think of from our typical days and many are said multiple times a day. Moms make the schedule, the routine and over 90% of the decisions about the day and the kids are expected, rightfully so, to follow the plan.
Choices give our children a chance to make decisions and feel a sense of control over their world. We must never forget, our children are people, they need to feel as though they belong and they need to feel they have some control.
Offering choices will allow them a bit of both.
Choices Do Not Equal Chaos
When I first heard of this idea of “choices” I admit, I struggled to see the value and the positive. All I could picture in my head was that mom who is constantly at her child’s beck and call, “red cup, blue cup, no red cup, no green one” pouring the juice back and forth just to satisfy the child. Being a mom who is a doormat to every whim of their child is not what choices are all about.
Offering choices does not mean allowing your child to have control over you or your home. When you incorporate choices into your daily lives it’s an infusion of choice and requirement that gives your child a sense of control over his world while you maintain control over the family.
Think about living in an apartment complex.
A great architect designed the building, made it structurally sound: walls, floors, ceilings, and roof. The owner decided on the size of the units, maybe the placement of rooms in each unit and so on. He sets the rent and the rules, pays the mortgage, and manages the maintenance HeThe renter gets the benefits of the architect’s work, the owner’s expense yet has both required responsibility and personal choices for his or her unit. She can decorate it to her style, arrange her furniture however she wants and make a hundred choices about her apartment that fit within the context of the rules the owner has set forth.
God is the grand architect of our family. Mom and Dad are like that owner and our children are like those renters. Each one is different, can make choices but ultimately falls under the authority of the Mom and Dad and the Great Architect.
Your Fear of Offering Choices is Really About Control
We tried this whole choices thing for a few a weeks and it seemed to work, although we all looked like a bunch of first-time skiers going down the novice slope. It’s awkward and not habitat first so you sometimes find yourself grasping for a choices mid-power struggle.
As I said before, I want my parenting to be better than peaceful. I want it to be Spirit led. So as I prayed about the legitimate, biblical aspect of choices the Lord revealed a few things to me. One of them was my fear of losing control.
I was afraid that offering choices would land me like the red cup, blue cup mom. I feared losing control and rank. The Lord gave me this apartment analogy and I realized, again, that I’m not ultimately in control anyway, He is. I’m following His design and in doing so, I can allow our son to make choices within the confines of our family rules, which line up with God’s mandates and reflect the fruit of the Spirit.
Do not let your fear of losing control hold you back from trying choices.
What Real-Life Choices Look Like
When you offer choices to your child you’re not saying, “Do you want to brush your teeth before bed or not?”
Um, hello! Brushing teeth isn’t optional. However, if this is an area of struggle you can say, “Do you want to brush your teeth before you put on your pajama’s or after?”
Offering a choice means surrounding a necessary, required action with options.
Here are a few real-life choices I’ve given just in the past few days:
“It’s time for reading, do you want me to read to you on the sofa or on the deck?”
“Your bike needs put away, do you want to do it now or after you eat dinner?”
“I need to make some phone calls, would you like to watch a truck video or play with your cars?”
(At the camper before heading home. He wanted me to do “something” with him. I centered that something on two things he likes, not what I like) “We need to leave soon, do you want to take a quick bike ride or go fishing before we leave?”
Practice Puts You Ahead of the Game
If this idea is new to you, it will take practice. I’ve had to back peddle a few times and follow through on choices that I later found weren’t good ones to offer. I have admitted to my husband and my son that I offered a choice that wasn’t acceptable as well.
Asking the Holy Spirit to guide you as you make choices a regular part of your parenting dialog is essential. You want to see ahead of time that a power-struggle is coming and a well-timed choice will diffuse the situation. Holy Spirit can do that, you need only listen when He’s speaking. This doesn't mean you have to stop, drop, and pray every time you want to offer a choice. Just like in other areas of life, when you live surrendered to Christ and in tune with Holy Spirit there's a flow that comes supernaturally as you go about your normal day.
Getting kids to do what they're told doesn't have to end in power struggles. Offering choices is a wonderful way to keep them engaged and involved without destroying peace and relationship.