The following is taken from a live Q&A with parents who participated in Kim’s recent webinar, The Soul of Discipline. This particular question addresses the issue of young children and choices.
Question: When my son was two, I really used the 2-choice strategy – i.e., “Would you like this choice or that choice?”
…It seemed to work well at that age. I always gave two minor choices, both of which I was fine with, like a “banana or apple” type of thing. Somewhere around age three, it stopped working so well, so I stopped using it. I’m curious to know how that fits into the rest of this. Thanks!
There have been some folk who are real fans of limited choices. However, so many parents have had the outcome you have described. The effectiveness wears off or the child pushes hard to expand the range. Sometimes, it leads ot the child demanding more choices about more important things. One parent described the limited choice strategy as a “Pandora’s box.”
My advice to parents who wish to offer limited choices has been to shift the dynamic from:
“Which cereal would you like, the organically grown gluten free flakes or the hemp based stevia sweetened granola?” to….
“You may choose between the….”
This phrase, “You may choose…” implies that the adult is allowing a small choice, not that the child is taking the right to make a choice. If the choice does not go well, the adult can simply move into…
”Oh dear, I can see I will have to help work this out.”
Does it work? Sometimes, but most times they keep on doing it. Why is that?
When you say “don’t”, followed by a command, the brain hears the command and thinks of the action you stated. They are looking for the action you want them to engage in. They can’t “do” a “don’t” . The command is everything after the “don’t”. So when you say, “Don’t jump on the bed”, the command they hear is, “Jump on the bed.”
For example, if I say to you, “Don’t think of a white elephant” the first thing you probably thought of was a white elephant. If I say, “Don’t look over there” you look and say, “Where?”.
There is a universal law that says what you focus on expands in your life.
When you say, “Don’t touch”, what are you focusing on, what you want or what you don’t want?
So, what do you want your child to do when you say, “Don’t touch”? My guess is you want them to keep their hands off of whatever it is they are touching.
Focus on the actions you want and use words that help to accomplish that action.
In my experience, with my kids, it is much easier to simply let them know what it is I want them to do. If I want them to not jump on the bed I say, “The bed is for sleeping upon. The trampoline or the floor is for jumping. Please stay off the bed.”
Instead of, “Don’t touch!” say, “Keep your hands to yourself!”
Instead of, “Don’t look down!” say, “Look up or look ahead”
Instead of, “Don’t hit!” say, “Be gentle!”
You get the Idea.
Family Practice: Take a look at your life and begin to notice what you say to your kids. Write down when you tell them DON’T the most. What are the top five things you tell your kids not to do?
Now, write down what it is you really want them to do.
Practice this and you will see a big difference in your communication with your kids.
Bhagavan and his wife have two school aged boys and are Waldorf-inspired home-schoolers. Currently living in Gainesville, FL Bhagavan is a Simplicity Parenting Group Leader and will be starting a 7 week Simplicity Parenting Group in early March.To contact him or find out more information about the upcoming SP workshops visit joyfilledparenting.com
Now, this wasn’t just any giraffe. This giraffe is “Baby.” My two year-old’s baby, to be specific. My son loves to give Baby rides in his wagon or on his tricycle. He sleeps with it, runs to help it when he sees it endangered, and carries it tucked in the crook of his neck, sweetly rubbing its back and telling it what a “cute baby” it is. This giraffe-boy relationship is easily one of the sweetest things I’ve ever witnessed as his mom.
I was cooking dinner when my little one came in and pointed out the place where his Baby was sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor. “He’s MAD, mama. He’s yelling LOUD. He’s very mad.” I could see my son was distressed by his little giraffe’s fit of anger. I asked what he thought he could do for Baby. He stared at the giraffe for a few moments, then a gentle smile spread across his face. He went to “Baby”, picked it up, and then hugged it tightly and rocked it until saying, “Baby’s all bettah now.”
…Since reading Simplicity Parenting, I’ve tried more and more to use “the Compassionate Response” with the similar emotional outbursts that happen with my boys. I’m trying to focus less on punishment or guilt and more on what deep needs they are trying to express, and how we can meet that need. Often I realize that lack of sleep or an out-of-the-ordinary busy schedule has brought on some soul fever or quirky behavior. More often, I see a little guy who really just wants his mama’s attention!
But here’s the thing – I don’t always get it right. In fact, often I don’t. Sometimes I really don’t know what need is driving my son’s behavior, and sometimes I can’t think of the best way to guide him. Sometimes my compassion runs a little thin. And I wonder if I’m really doing such a wonderful job at all. But, like all of us, I try.
My two year old’s response to his giraffe’s little “tantrum” encouraged me, and, I think, should encourage us all. There are no perfect parents. We may not have the right response every time. But as we move towards a position of compassion with our kids, our little ones tune in to that. They see what’s at the heart of our actions. Perfect or not, the intention comes through loudly and clearly.
Maybe the most encouraging idea of all is to picture the compassion-filled adults these little ones will one day be. I can only imagine my two year old one day as a daddy, as a husband, as a friend to someone who needs his help. Let us all be encouraged to continue sharing compassion, knowing our kids see through our imperfections, straight to our hearts. Every time we model compassion to them, we can be sure we are building a strong sense of empathy in them that will bless them and many others.
Rewards for children are generally misused. Unfortunately, because parents are drained from their current lifestyle overload, they believe that their children must be motivated in order to behave well. Parents might even argue that children will not fulfill every day tasks like homework, chores, and other responsibilities unless they are given a reward.
This discussion gets right to the heart of why the work of parenting is not an easy one. It is true that if left to their own devices children might just choose to stay in their pajamas, eat chocolate cake for breakfast, watch unlimited media, and only sleep when they literally fall to the floor out of pure exhaustion.
Discipline-without-reward is about creating a predictable rhythm, providing nourishing meals, limiting their exposure to information and images, responding effectively, and modeling your expectations. Using these tools of discipline allows you to elevate your child from a base state of 24/7 desire fulfillment into a being who is developing such qualities as self-control, moderation, helpfulness, compassion, patience, and wisdom.
“Real discipline doesn’t rely on motivation. Instead, children are taught skills for doing tasks that interest them along with the skills for doing tasks that don’t interest them.” – Ronald Morrish, Secrets of Discipline
“But,” you say, “doesn’t my child need or deserve a little recognition or motivation sometimes?”
Yes. And let it be known that a child’s biggest reward, particularly for young children, is… you. Not just being physically present – although that is a great first step – I mean being emotionally present and giving your mindful attention.
If you just can’t help to offer your child a special treat or sticker (advised to stay clear of money as a reward), think about using “shared rewards.” This is the idea that when you want to let your child know that they really did something exceptional, rather than giving them a sticker or a cookie, give them 3 stickers or 3 cookies. One for themselves and two to give away. Instruct them to give the extra rewards to siblings or friends – the idea is that when they do well, and they are recognized for it, everybody wins!
Sometimes you just wish you had a simple technique as an option when your child, tween, or teen is doing something you do not approve of. If you’re a fan of Kim Payne then you may know that he works with schools using the Social Inclusion approach.
The Social Inclusion Approach teaches a “justice without blame” method to conflict resolution. It can easily be adapted for parents at home with their children.
This approach, developed and refined over 25 years, supports the parent, drawing on their deep connection with their child. Without blaming and stigmatizing the child who has made a mistake or done something harmful, it brings the child face to face with the implications of their actions.
Here’s the approach Kim suggests parents use and adapt with children ages 8 and older…
Disapprove – Affirm – Discover – Do-Over
Begin by expressing clear disapproval for the action, “It is hurtful to behave as you did.” “We don’t speak that way in our family.” Speak with quiet directness. Mean it.
We know that we are supposed to separate a child’s actions from his/her whole being but it’s not always easy. To achieve this, disapproval needs to be followed up right away by an affirmation…”You hardly ever speak like that.” “So often you say helpful things.”
Then the adult discovers what the subtle issues are, “What’ up?” “Something must be bothering you.” This question must come at the right time to get an honest response.
When the issue is clarified the adult can help the child to do it over. “Let’s work out a way to say what you need to say without being hurtful/without hitting.” “You’ll need to make up for the words you used but then you can say what is bothering you.”
In this way we honor everyone’s needs while acknowledging our responsibilities toward others.
Social problems such as teasing and bullying are known to us all. Most of us have been a part of a bullying situation in one way or another. When your child is going through a time of intense social struggle it can put a lot of pressure on the entire family. This is particularly so if he or she is being aggressive towards others. There are many things a parent can do to help. Such as:
- Looking at the way in which you all treat each other in the family
- Avoiding blame, shame, and put-downs
- Remembering that many good things happen in your family but some things probably will need to change
Research is very clear that the environment in which a child grows up is a key to his his or her social behavior. Of particular importance is discipline that is…
- firm yet kind, rather than harsh and unforgiving
- understanding yet accountable, rather than punishment-oriented
- clear and predictable, rather than unpredictable
- modeling active problem-solving with siblings and with each other, rather than angry outbursts, accusations, and aggressiveness
Of course any parent is occasionally going to get angry and frustrated, but what is being pointed out here is a general mood. We are the social climate control in our home, and our children take what has developed in this climate with them when they go to school or to play dates. While this might bring up guilt, it can also bring hope – hope that the changes we make really influence our children.
This week, make anger and frustration occasional and the general mood of your home warm, calm, and firm.
It’s so common for parents to believe that they are respecting their young children by providing them with choices and freedom and decision-making, when, in fact, the power you are bestowing upon them is such a burden to them and can be the very reason for tantrums and defiance. Ultimately, if continued over time, you can develop your little one into the family tyrant.
Communication is critical.
This week, let’s focus on ensuring that we are stating our few requests calmly, providing rhythm and structure (rather than choices), and that we are establishing a high standard in how we want our children to speak to us (your child may not demand things, she may ask with courtesy and kindness).
You are the benevolent Kings and Queens of your home. You provide structure and predictability and a solid knowing of what will happen next.
More parents in our generation believe that their children should have choices throughout the day – about what they want to do and where they want to go. There are times when a small choice is appropriate. However, developmentally, it provides greater security and more cooperation in the child when parents take the lead, act confidently, have clear boundaries, make requests and ensure their child follows-through.
It is so tempting to allow your little ones, with their emotions and their tantrums, to make decisions. It’s amazing how bossy a 4 year old can become and how easily you can let yourself give into their demands, if you aren’t careful. You must teach a child how you want to be treated. Parent out of knowing what is right, not out of fear of your child’s tantrums.
I remember an incident when my daughter was frustrated with her brother and hit him. He said nothing to her and ran to me, “She hit me!”
I told him, “Don’t ever let anyone hit you. Go back to her and tell her, “You may not ever hit me.”
When my children get frustrated with me and start to yell, “I want to go now!” I recognize that it is my job to teach them how I want to be treated. “You may not yell at me. We don’t talk to each other like that in our family. Try again and say, “Mom, I’m ready to go.” ”
Are you giving your little one too many choices?
Are you teaching him or her how to treat you and others?
Effective benevolent Kings and Queens do not allow their princes and princesses to rule the kingdom. Developmentally, your princes and princesses are happier when you confidently and wisely take the lead.
I think this week it is essential for me to focus on building in down-time for my three kids. I will be sticking to our routine as much as possible to try and preserve the sanity of everyone in our house! ~Amy
…focusing on some down time with my kiddo… ~Lisa
I am going to continue to work on simplifying our home environment. ~Clelie
The above quotes were small changes that our simplicity community committed to for last week’s small change challenge.
Here, at Simplicity Parenting, we encourage those of you who implemented your small change to stick with it, even if your plans may have been thwarted by holiday festivities!
We know how much our community enjoys thinking about simplifying their home environment, especially this week when new “stuff” may have arrived as a result of the holidays.
However, we would like to shake things up for those who would like some motivation and support around discipline and communication in your household. Many families will be together for another week before school resumes and tensions may rise.
For this week’s small change: What can you tweak about how you are handling the sibling rivalry or your own frustrations that send you into a mommy meltdown?
Can you strive to put…
Before you say something, ask yourself these three questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? (Simplicity Parenting, page 192)
…into practice this week? Have you thought about holding your children to this same standard in the way they communicate with you and with others?
Share your triumphs and difficulties with this task in the comments below!
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