I love eating at buffets. Several dozen choices for main dish, side dish and even dessert make my day. Even though I’m trying to eat sensibly and avoid multiple trips, the number of choices alone makes eating at a buffet worthwhile. It’s not the quantity of food; it’s the choices. The same is true for our children.
Our kids don’t need dozens of options. Only two options will change the way they listen to your words. Tell them what to do and their mind goes into high gear thinking of reasons not to give you what you asked. Ask them to choose between two options and their mind immediately goes to deciding which way to do what you asked. Big difference, huh?
It sounds like this. You can bark out the order, “Go and clean your room!” If you want to sound really powerful, add a threat to the end. “Don’t come out until it’s clean or else,” you can powerfully say. If you are smiling right now, it’s probably because you tried this recently. What happens? They don’t go to their room at all and you look like a banty rooster rather than the drill sergeant you thought you sounded like.
Choices sound much different. You can say, “Would you like to clean your room now or tonight while we watch television?” There are two options. You have invited them to make the choice. They think they have all the power but you actually kept virtually all the power. Either choice will make you happy. Giving them the option of which time slot to use allows them to feel powerful as well.
Choices range from which shirt to wear to which drink to have at breakfast. Red or blue, juice or milk, now or later, your bedroom or the living room—all these choices are free to you and empowering to your child. You can whisper them, speak softly or even leave a note. No drill sergeant needed. No helicopter surveillance required. No back talk or arguing to endure. Feel free to pick either option because the choice is yours. The choices come from a parent who holds virtually all the power but it doesn’t feel that way to the child.
Choices empower decision making ability as well. Kids who regularly make healthy choices get in the habit of choosing healthy options on their own as well. Since you wouldn’t give them an unhealthy option in the first place, choices are a safe way to empower and educate your child about one of the most important things they will ever do—make healthy choices.
Choices are free in another way as well. You can use dozens of them and never wear out the welcome. By the time your kids eat their breakfast they could have chosen a dozen things already. It isn’t boring and it doesn’t create power struggles. Barking orders always creates power struggles. Amazingly, you gave up very little power to use choices instead of orders.
Dr. Charles Fay from Love and Logic Parenting also reminds us that giving choices teaches another powerful lesson. Children learn that choices matter. When kids experience the important link between cause and effect deeply in their own hearts, life is better for all of us.
Would you like to be a consultant or a drill sergeant this week with your kids? It’s your choice.