Monday, August 3, 2015

Mom-ing Through Faith: On Choices

Before I dive headfirst into descriptions of the first of the techniques that I've been referring to the last couple of weeks, as discussed in Danny Silk's Loving Our Kids On Purpose, a quick summary of what I've shared the last two weeks from this highly recommended book (all bold statements came straight from the brilliant mind of Danny Silk):

Our children are professional mistake makers. They are all on a learning journey. 


For many of us...intimidation is our only real parenting tool. We have various levels of intimidation. We try to convey to our kids that we are in control of their lives from the time they are tiny. 

And yet,

You can't control other people, and nobody can control you but you.

So, we need to  

...introduce freedom to our small children, and...allow them to practice messing it up while they have a safety net in our home. 


When we keep our children from experiencing what it's like to think for themselves, make their own decisions, and experience the consequences of those decisions, we either end up with compliant children who will be completely at sea when they leave home or rebellious children who wrestle their freedom out of our hands as soon as they figure out we've been withholding it.

Got it? Make sense? Okay, then. Onward! Let me introduce the first of the techniques that I think is mind-blowing, parenting-changing, and an absolute must-do. But. Know this. It's going to take practice. And consistency and persistency (ahhh---those key words I love, yet again). And patience. And grace--both for yourself and for your children. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce the power of....CHOICES

As parents, it is easy to get into the routine of barking out commands. "Pick that up! Come here. Stop being so noisy. Be nice to your brother."

Aka control. It is easy to try to control our children.

But. Since we now know that the point is not to intimidate, not to control, our kiddos, but instead lead them to be individuals who hold the power and control for their own choices and consequences, we need to

Practice being powerful by controlling something you do control, namely, yourself.

Yes, Mommas. We need to stop trying to control our children and instead focus on controlling ourselves and how we guide and react to our children's choices. Why is this important? Because

The best thing you can do to establish respectful boundaries with your children is to get good at telling yourself what to do and get out of the habit of telling others what to do. 

Because, hard as we try, we can't actually control another human being. For example when we say,

"Don't you roll your eyes at me, young man!" We are really saying, "Oh please, oh please, oh please, don't disobey me!"

The thing is

We weaken our words when we make threats or unenforceable statements such as "Don't you talk to me like that!" or "You be nice to your brother!"

Instead of barking out commands, and thus trying to exert control, we have to give our littles CHOICES. 

Let me give you an example straight from Danny Silk's book to help explain what I (he) mean(s). 

Instead of saying "Clean your room," say, "Do you want to clean your room or pay me to do it for you?"

Do you see the difference? We aren't barking out a command. We are giving two viable choices, either of which we are perfectly okay with our child choosing, and we are then allowing our child to make the decision. We are giving our child the freedom to control their own choice. 

A few key guidelines, as outlined by Danny Silk:  

(1) We give our children real choices when we show them two ways to get something done and either way is fine with us. 

Let's stick with the example above. The child gets to choose whether to clean the room himself (end goal = clean room) or pay the parent to do it (end goal = clean room). Notice there is no threat here (i.e., "Clean your room or go to timeout."). Two choices are offered. The child gets to choose. The parent doesn't mind which choice the child makes, as both have the same outcome. 

(2) Make sure that your child understands the choices being offered. 

What does "clean your room" mean? This needs to be discussed between child and parent. To your child, this may mean shoving everything under his bed. So, he stuffs all toys and clothes and junk under his bed in 15 seconds flat and declares his room is clean. And yet, maybe you, as the parent, were thinking "Clean your room" actually means putting all clothes back in drawers, making the bed, putting toys in the places they belong, etc. This breakdown in communication can get in the way of choice comprehension; so, make sure each choice offered is clearly defined.

(3) Be prepared when they choose Option C and be ready and able to actually follow through.

Wouldn't life be so easy if your child would always choose one of the two choices offered? But often, he will try to introduce Option C. For example, you say, "Do you want to clean your room or pay me to do it for you?" And your child says, "I'm not paying you!" and refuses to clean. No problem. Remain calm and proceed. Tell your child you charge $50 per cleaning (more? less? you decide!). He still insists he will not pay. Go ahead and clean that room. Scrub it from top to bottom. Get it in tip top shape. "Still not paying!" your child retorts. Now, here is where you remind him of the choices he was given. He chose not to clean, which meant you did, which meant you are owed $50. You then inform him that you accept cash, check, credit card, or Xbox. Meaning, he can pay up or you will sell the Xbox for $50. But here's the thing: you have to be able to follow through. The first time you say you're going to do something, and then don't do it (side note: Parents, please stop the whole "If you do that one more time..." empty threat), he will forever call your bluff. 

Now, here's the beauty of it all. You follow through. Either he pays you or you sell the Xbox. Either way, the room is clean and you are $50 richer. But here's the real beauty of it all: I would bet that the next time you offer that choice, "Do you want to clean your room or pay me to do it for you?" You child will choose either Option A or Option B, rather than trying to control you by choosing Option C.

You see,

Empowering children to make decisions, when they are little, is self-control practice.

Not to mention

Offering choices and giving power is what begins to build responsibility. 

This technique can even be used with young children (i.e., even those younger than age 2!). The language is simpler: you are basically asking the child if they want to be "Fun" or fill in the blank. For example, your toddler starts throwing a tantrum. "Fun or room?" you ask her. She will quickly learn that she gets to choose: either stop tantrumming and be "fun" or continue tantrumming but do it alone in her room. Again, you as the parent are fine with either choice, as you no longer have a screaming child writhing around in front of you.
Want a couple of quick, recent real life examples from my own life? 

Last week, I was at a bounce house with the kids. Banks was whining like crazy! I said the following: "Banks, you can either stop whining and continue jumping with your friends or you can go sit down at that table and get your whines out. Take your time!" Banks decided he needed some time to continue pouting and whining; so, he decided to go sit down and rest for a bit 'til he felt he was ready to continue playing without whining. Now, keep in mind, this wasn't a time out. He chose to pull himself out of the jump house, spend some time alone, and (eventually) stop whining. I would have been totally fine with either option. He was given the choice as to what he wanted to do, but the end result would be the same: he would be done with whining (after either stopping immediately [Choice A] or whining a little longer albeit while sitting by himself, and thus out of my earshot [Choice B].) When he was ready (i.e., after sitting alone for a bit and getting his whines out), he came over to me and said he was done whining and was ready to play. 

Another example? Our kiddos have the hardest time staying in their chairs during meal times. The other week, Raleigh just would not stay in her seat; so, I said, "Raleigh, you can either sit in your chair and eat your food or sit on the floor next to the table and eat your food." She chose to sit on the floor. That was fine with me--no more of me barking out orders insisting that she stay in her seat all the while becoming increasingly frustrated! And her meal would be consumed. But then you know what happened? She realized it wasn't so comfy on the hardwood floor and decided, instead, she would like to re-join us at the table. Regardless, I was fine with either choice she made. The key was allowing her to make the decision, with the end result being the same (meal eaten; no more intimidation by momma).
I think the best part of using this amazing choices technique, aside from the fact that it allows us to give our children the opportunity to practice self-control and maintain responsibility for their own decisions, is that it allows us, the parents, to stay incredibly calm. It truly diminishes the frustration because now, you see, the problem is no longer ours. The problem is theirs and they have the power to decide how to handle it. 

I cannot tell you how much calmer I feel when I put this into practice. Again, though, I think it takes lots of time, patience, grace, and persistence and consistency to make this a reality. It's easier to do what is more familiar to us (barking out commands; using intimidation), but again, what long-term goal is that accomplishing? Using choices is an incredible powerful parenting strategy, one that allows our children the freedom to make decisions, learn from their mistakes, and establish a sense of responsibility.

So. Let's give this a try. I would love to hear how it works for you over the next week! Know that this is now a regular parenting practice used in the Lu home (and also--make sure both parents are on board. Consistency and persistency, remember?). 

Next week, a couple more awesome techniques coming your way!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3: 5-6.

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