You would think having the power of choice to be an awesome thing, and it is (something many people from free nations take for granted.) However, there comes a point when there are too many options. We as adults suffer this issue also, but I will focus on helping your kids this time around. Maybe in learning how to help your children manage choice, you will help yourself in the process.
A year or two ago, I did an interview with a dad I met named Josh Becker. During that interview I asked about advice that worked well for him with his kids. He mentioned giving his little girl choices—letting her choose her path to what they both knew to be a fixed end result.
To be honest, I had done a form of this technique, but it was not as effective as Josh’s method. The concept piqued my curiosity, but it really didn’t get the comments and questions I thought it would. I assumed there were two possible reasons for this:
- everyone except me already knew this technique
- several readers were probably embarrassed that they too didn’t know this works and didn’t want to put it out there.
The pros and cons of choice
What we can’t ignore, though, is that there are issues with giving your kids choices.
I hear two common arguments when I discuss this empowerment of choice concept with people:
‘They do not know what is best for themselves.’
‘It doesn’t matter what I try to do, they still won’t listen.’
Let’s start with “not knowing what is best for themselves.”
First and foremost, nobody knows what is best for their child. If you are an engaged parent, you know what has or has not worked in the past and what you prefer for them.
The second thing you must understand is what I outlined in bold earlier—you still control the final outcome. By giving them options for how to get there, you’re helping them develop necessary deductive reasoning skills, setting precedents/experience, and opening up new neural pathways. (That’s my only big word in this post—I promise!) Remember, you are not giving up control.
I speak from personal experience when I say there is a massive difference in the levels of responsibility, maturity, and overall intelligence between children that are given opportunities to think about their next move and encouraged to decide for themselves what route to take and ones who are not afforded these choices. Even simple things, for instance, Josh’s example of ‘you can stay and play in the bath or get out and draw before bedtime,’ are a big decision for a child; and they learn to look for and weigh their options carefully. Sure, they may often choose the least favorable path, but experience is the best teacher. If they didn’t care for the way they went about doing something, they now know not to choose that path again. No matter what, it’s a win/win for them in the long run.
Now let’s explore ‘It doesn’t matter what I try to do, they still won’t listen.’
First, we need to look hard at that statement ‘It doesn’t matter what I try to do’. For me, it immediately opens up a slew of questions:
- How old are they?
- How many things you tried were appropriate for their age?
- How often do you change your technique?
- If you have tried multiple things, where is the consistency?
Children absorb everything around them. How many times have you heard that kids are sponges? Even sponges have a max limit. Soak up too much and they no longer function properly. They leak. Stuff drips. It’s no different with a child. They are already learning so much, so rapidly, that they cannot process it all. If you don’t have a consistent system for them to follow, it adds confusion and chaos.
Kids need structure and (for the most part) have to know what to expect in given situations. If corrective methods change too frequently, you become inconsistent, or they don’t know what the outcome will be, they act out. Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be the perfect solution; it just has to be consistent. Find a method and stick with it.
Fix one thing at a time…
So what do you do if you want to correct number two and get to number one? The answer is patience and consistency.
Humans take approximately two weeks of steady exposure to something new before they become acclimated. Whether it is a new job, new climate, or a new concept, the process is the same. (Actually, the ancient Chinese might tell you that it takes 1,000 times of doing something before you truly understand it. By that thought process, though, you could do something for three years before they get it!)
Your first step is to wait to start your new system when you have time to enforce it. Use your new method or schedule for at least the two weeks and let your child get used to it. Be steadfast and hold them (and yourself) accountable, then, once you are both settled in, slowly introduce the power of choice or try another system if this one did not work.
I’m willing to bet you will see a big difference.