Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Choice Limitations=Parenting Freedom

With 5 kids, there are a few things that we have discovered that provide sanity to our daily lives.  As of today, our kids are 9, 7, 5, 3 (4 next week) and 3.  5 kids under 10 can bring 100 gray hairs before 40.  BUT, it can also bring tons of fun, laughter and stories to tell at the wedding.

One of the most important for us is choice limitations.

There, I said it.

I am going to butt straight up against the American ideal of freedom and say that kids needs limits.  And I mean not just "don't touch the electrical socket or play with butcher knives"  type of limits.  I mean daily limits to even trivial choices.  Now, this will look different for my 9 year old than it will for my 3 year old.  As they get older, hopefully they can handle more freedom to choose by themselves.  But, if they haven't learned how to make choices as a toddler, than they certainly won't be able to make them as a teenager battling hormones and peer pressure.

This all started when my oldest daughter was 3.  Hubs told her to take off her shoes.  She refused.  My husband told her to stay in her room until she had taken off her shoes.  3 1/2 hours later, she was ready to  give in.  It was at this point that we realized we had taken a wrong path somewhere along the way.  We called for a huddle.  We did some reading and decided to start limiting her choices.  See, we had done like most typical Western parents do and had given our 3 year old tons of choices in her day.  So, when it came time for us to impose a limit on her, she decided that she didn't want to do it our way.  Why should she?  We had been giving her all these choices all day long.  For example:

1.  A kid gets up in the morning and I give them milk.  "But Mom, I want juice".  No big deal, I give them juice.

2.  I give them Cheerios.  "Mom, can I please have Fruit Loops?"  Because she asked so nicely, I give it to her.

3.  "Oh Mommy, I don't want the blue bowl, I want the orange one."

Do you see this pattern?  I know these all seem like such trivial things, but what I am telling my child is that they can dictate what they can and cannot have.  As a parent, I had also bought into the lie that giving my 3 year old tons of choices, it was teaching them independence and discernment.  The wrong thinking in this is that a 3 year old needs to be guided into what good thinking and independence really means.  This is usually the scene that follows a morning like I've laid out above:

1.  I tell my daughter to come here and put her lunch plate away.  Flailing and pouting will occur because she doesn't want to do it.  All of the sudden I am imposing a rule on her.  She has been her own boss all morning and all of the sudden I'm jumping in and taking over.

This can all happen so subtly that you don't even realize what's going on. All you know is that your kid is throwing fits every time they don't get what they want.

When hubs and I see that we are slacking in this area, we have to have a time of retraining for the kids and ourselves.  Honestly, training us as parents can be even harder than the kids.  For several days, we have to enact a choices boot camp.  We give them virtually no choices in their day.  I simply give them milk, Cheerios and the blue bowl.  If they don't like it, I just take it away.  Simple.  At first they argue, complain and cry. Eventually they realize that I'm in charge again and they fall in line.  At 3, they cannot differentiate between simple (what cup to choose) and moral choices (should I hit my sister).  We have to help them understand that they cannot simply do or get whatever their little hearts tell them.

After a few days of no choices whatsoever and a changed attitude, we slowly start introducing choices back into their day.  Maybe I let them pick juice or milk.  But those are the ONLY two choices.  No third option that they throw out.  And sometimes we just arbitrarily choice limit even our older ones, just to remind them that we are in charge here.

Choice limiting has radically changed our family.  They become more grateful when we say 'yes' and they find it easier to obey right away, all the way and with a joyful heart.
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