I have read somewhere amongst the minefield of psychological information available online, that in order to get the little people in our lives to do what we want them to, we should offer them choices. ‘They’ (as in the online world who I lean on regularly for advice and guidance) say that by giving children choices (out of a few carefully selected options), they feel empowered. We get what we want, they get what they want – everyone’s a winner.
With this in mind, I have often provided my children with choices/options regarding what they eat, wear or do. My eldest (3-year-old) daughter has generally responded as I’d hoped, seeming satisfied that she has had some control over the decision. However as she is growing older and becoming increasingly independent there have been several occasions when this level of empowerment is just not enough for her determined little mind. These days she prefers to go off piste, selecting anything other than one of the options I have provided.
“Which of these 3 pairs of leggings would you like to wear sweetheart?”
“I don’t want any of them, I want to wear a skirt”
“Ok – which skirt would you like to wear out of these 3?”
“Ok” relieved I pass her the skirt.
“No not that one. I said I didn’t want a skirt. I want shorts”
“Ok which shorts would you like?” (losing the will to live I pull all of the shorts from the shelf allowing her an unlimited number to choose from)
“I don’t want shorts. I want a dress”
“Which colour sweet (lolly) would you like? You can have red, yellow, orange or green”
“Ummmmmmmm” *long pause* “purple”.
”There aren’t any purple ones. Just red, yellow, orange or green”
Her latest obsession is requesting we go a different way home either when in the car or walking. Occasionally I’ve given her a couple of options and she has delighted in the fact that she has chosen the route. Unfortunately there are times when no alternative route is possible and the offering of choices is no longer an option.
“I didn’t want to go this way. I said I wanted to go a different way home”
The other day as we were approaching the roundabout I asked her
“Which way would you like me to go?” pointing “This way or that way?”
Feeling the pressure of the car approaching behind me, I had to make a decision on her behalf – you can imagine how that went down.
There are zillions of examples of these conversations that we are having on a daily basis these days. I’m yet to learn what you should do when you offer them an array of choices and none of them are deemed to be suitable.
My youngest daughter (20 months) doesn’t seem empowered in the slightest when I offer her choices. She fiercely shakes her head at every suggestion I make, then stamps her feet, holds her breath for what seems like forever, turns a scary shade of blue and whilst I’m desperately pleading with her to breathe….lets out a loud, ear-piercing, heart breaking cry as though the world had literally just ended. I’m relieved that she’s breathing but frustrated that we are no further forward than we were 10 minutes ago.
Today we were out for a walk (just the two of us as my husband has taken the eldest camping). I let her decide where we were going as I had no agenda other than to tire her out after letting her sleep for a slightly extended (hour extra of heavenly peace and quiet) day sleep. She was delighted to be given the authority to decide the route. It was all going swimmingly until she stopped at the bus stop. I suggested 3 options for us to continue on our way however she vigorously shook her head at all 3. It soon became clear what her intentions were. As the bus approached her chubby little hand pulled me towards it. Unfortunately I wasn’t up for a trip to Bondi Junction at 4.45pm and this lack of flexibility on my part was not well received. Yes, you guessed it – the tears and foot stamping began. The relaxing, fun adventure ended abruptly and any empowerment disappeared in an instant.
My husband has highlighted to me my tendency to employ sarcasm when talking to the girls and I have to agree with him. I find my use of sarcasm is what prevents me from ‘losing it’ when every other strategy just isn’t working
“So you don’t want to wear any of the clothes we have just pulled out of the wardrobe (which mummy spends many precious minutes of the day putting away each day). You want the one thing we haven’t pulled out or the one thing that you can’t have as it’s in the wash”
She/they nod at me – clearly thinking….eureka…finally she gets it!
And the strange thing is sarcasm (which is preventing me from ‘losing it’), is actually making progress. She’s smiling. She gets what she wants, I don’t get what I wanted but I don’t lose it and no one is screaming.
“Ok I’ll just get it out of the wash basket and you can wear it even though it’s covered in cream cheese. It doesn’t matter if you look like a street urchin and people think I don’t care. Why would you want to wear any of the other lovely clean clothes from the hundreds of options you currently have in your wardrobe on your bedroom floor?”
Therefore I’ve adapted my parenting style accordingly. Most of the time, I begin by offering carefully selected choices (as ‘they’ advise) in a calm, considered and patient manner. If this doesn’t go according to plan, I take some deep breaths, sigh a little/a lot and find myself utilising the language of sarcasm. Failing that and by this time with my patience at an all time low, I find some internal swearing, a little bit of shouty mummy and a ‘do as you are told!’ approach may get things moving along (just with a few more tears from everyone).