Monday, August 11, 2014

When Children Are Given Two Choices, They Still Have Three Options

“Now honey, would you like to play with your toys nicely and keep them, or would you rather not play with your toys nicely and then they can stay in my closet?” Have you ever tried that one on your toddler?

Or perhaps you may have tried a different version of that on your teen? (“Would you like to drive responsibly and keep your license, or not and I will be happy to hold on to it until you are more ready for safe driving?)

Dare I say even on your spouse? (“If you would be willing to stop using hurtful words I am willing to stay in the room and discuss this with you, if not I will choose to give myself some space from you until we are both speaking calmly.”)

If you are familiar with the Love and Logic approach to parenting and to marriage interactions, you likely are noticing the use of “choices” and “enforceable statements” (focusing more on what I will do or allow, and not on what they have to do or can’t do), in the examples given above. While there is an abundance of research and literature about the importance and effectiveness of these techniques, (see I would like to point out a very important concept that helps us with what happens after we use a statement such as those.

In reality, we can only control certain things, primarily our own thoughts, feelings, intentions, choices, etc. Therefore, also in reality, we cannot control other things, especially others thoughts, feelings, intentions, preferences, choices, etc. So as you sharpen our skills at taking more ownership of yourself by being honest, loving and fair in your discussions and boundaries, I encourage you to remember that even when you use the proven techniques of setting limits and offering choices, your child still has, and always will have options that will likely fall under three main categories:

1. They can choose to do something that will make it better
2. They can choose to do something that will make it worse
3. They can choose to do nothing and leave it to chance

When people choose “to do something that will make it better”, they are likely going to have to prepare themselves to accept what they can’t change or control, while learning to advocate for what they do want, yet make a choice that fits within the parameters given to them. For instance, if the child truly values playing with the toy, even though hitting their sibling with it is much more fun, then they can choose to “accept”, stop hitting, and continue to play with the toy in harmony. The end result is a win-win for all.

When people choose “to do something that will make it worse”, they are most certainly electing to “not accept” and will move into the “rebel mode” with various attempts to escalate things, debate things, retaliate against the authorities involved and/or withdraw, pout, and passively harbor anger and resentment. The end result is a lose for the child due to the lack of growth as well as the loss of the toy,yet if the parent maintains a loving posture, the child will still have a chance for a “to do something to make it better” the next time.

When people choose “to do nothing and leave it to chance”, they are likely allowing themselves to be too passive to their needs and preferences, allowing themselves to stay stuck in a helpless/victim position, or are secretly wanting the authority/parent to be over responsible and do it for them, especially so then the child can attempt to blame the parent later. The dilemma with “leaving it to chance” is that the child doesn’t learn how to grow from the situation, will likely still have to deal with the dilemma in the future, and are literally allowing someone or something else to dictate the outcome whereas they could have chosen to take ownership for themselves in the first place.

Like many other topics about “life lessons”, these three options are easy to write about and read, yet the true act of love and growth is in applying and personalizing them. My hope is that you first commit to observe how often you and/or your child (spouse, etc) naturally do either of the three options, then, when you are ready, ask yourself…..

“Am I ready to address this pattern and do something to make it better, do I want to ignore it or escalate it and make it worse, or do I choose to just sit and observe and leave it to chance that things will magically change on their own?”


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