#3 Give your children choices. Children are empowered by the opportunity to choose. Children are affirmed by the choices we give them. And the power to choose often eliminates those showdowns over what really start as insignificant issues. For example, Junior says he does not want to get dressed in the morning. After some prodding from Mom, Junior digs in his heels and the ensuing meltdown has us chasing Junior around the house in his diaper. Why is he laughing when I am about to boil over? Or what about the other end of the day when Junior announces he does not want to take his bath and you find yourself trying to pry a three-year-old’s fingers off of the bathroom door jamb?
We have found that these encounters can be minimized by giving kids choices. We ask Junior before announcing it is time to get dressed, “Do you want to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt today?” Before getting into the tub, we suggest, “What bath time toy do you want to bring with you into the tub?” Distracted by the power to choose, they move forward to the task at hand.
And these choices are not just for little kids. We found increased cooperation in the kitchen when we assigned one night a week for one of the kids to help Mom prepare dinner with the understanding that they could choose the meal. Or we took turns letting our kids decide what game we were going to play for our family evening together. Cooperation increases when children experience the power to choose.
Now on the surface, some parents may object to this approach as a diversion tactic instead of tackling obedience / disobedience issues straight on. Not to worry. There are plenty of opportunities, if we are paying attention, to discipline and teach over willful disobedience throughout their growing up and we need to stand strong when necessary. But we have found the peace, security, and joy level go up when we don’t take every issue to the level of a confrontation. Diversion at the appropriate time is not a cop-out. It is finding the balance between love and control in our homes. Remember, we (the adults) have the wisdom and observation from our mature point of reference on our side.
Think about the power to choose in our adult world. Many of us have worked for companies whose attitude was, “You should feel lucky to have a job here. The economy is not doing too well. We can treat you poorly because you really have no other choice of where to work.” Contrast that with, “We know you are a top-notch accountant. There are twenty companies you could be working for. We want to have you here. We know you have choices and we want this to the company of choice for quality people like you.” Which company will have the most enthusiastic employees?
It is the same way with children. They are affirmed by having choices. This does not mean we coddle our kids, cater to our kids, or spoil our kids. By nature of having little ones in the house, your home is child-focused. Or at least it needs to be. But it is not child-centered. There is a difference. And giving children appropriate choices in one of the ways we affirm and empower our kids.