Imagine for a moment that you just woke up and are thinking about what you want to wear today, you have in your mind the perfect outfit and then your significant other walks into the room and says this is what you are wearing today. You of course are not thrilled with what they picked out because it isn't what you wanted to wear, but your significant other does not care and tells you that you will wear what they picked out or they will not allow you to come out of your room. How would you feel towards your significant other at that moment? Would you be filled with warm fuzzies and love or would you feel resentful and hurt and angry?
Now imagine that you are planning on having a blueberry muffin with apple juice for breakfast because you are slightly hungry but not starving and as you are walking into your kitchen your significant other is serving up a plate of pancakes, hash browns, bacon and eggs and says that you will eat every last bite or else you will not be allowed to get up from the table. You look at the food and all you can think is that there is no way you are hungry enough to eat that much food, but you can't just sit at the table so you are forced to eat every last bite. How would you feel?
One last example, let's say it is 7:30 p.m. and you are wide awake, you had a soda at dinner and ice cream for dessert and you are experiencing a great sugar high and your significant other tells you that it is time for you to go to sleep or else there will be serious consequences. As much as you would love to not have this fight there is absolutely no way your body is going to sleep any time soon and because you aren't sleeping your significant other just gets more and more upset with you. How do you feel towards your significant other at this point?
Now imagine that every single decision about your day and what you eat, play, clean, wear, and when you can do those things is made by someone else . . . "because they know better than you" how happy would you be? How loved would you feel if you were not able to decide how to run your life?
As an adult there is no way you would tolerate that, and if you are in a situation like that as an adult that would be considered an abusive situation and you are most likely not feeling a whole lot of love towards the person dictating your life. My spouse and I have a relationship that is based on respect and I would never dream of taking away his right to choose what he wants to do with his life. I may not love all of the choices he makes, but I respect them because I know he would do the same for me. If he tried to make every decision for me I would walk right out the front door and tell him to have a nice life, I am a grown woman and am capable of deciding for myself how I want to spend my time as are most adults.
Now you may be thinking well you just said it . . . you are a grown woman and that is why it is o.k. for you to make your own decisions, but kids are not grown adults and they need us to make those decisions for them. And you would be right . . . to a point! There are certain things that all parents must teach their kids, but you can teach your child those things through giving them choices and providing logical and natural consequences.
For example, all kids need to eat throughout the day and as a parent it is your responsibility to provide food for your children, but why not involve your children in the decision making process of what they eat every day. I am not a morning person, in fact I hate mornings, and therefore I rarely make a hot breakfast - which means most mornings my kids are eating cereal, pop-tarts or muffins. Every morning the first thing I say to my kids is good morning, I hope you slept well, what do you want for breakfast, cereal or pop-tarts? Immediately we are starting our day off with my kids having the right to make a choice. This morning my kids all said cereal - which is great because that is one of the options. I then brought them all up to the kitchen table and got out their bowls for them, they get out their own spoons, and I pull out four boxes of cereal.
This is where I struggled as a parent for a while because I grew up in a very controlling house and we were not allowed to open a box of cereal until the other one was completely gone so if one of my six siblings opened up a box of Lucky Charms we all ate Lucky Charms so when I first got married that is how I would view cereal. However, my husband's family is not that way and for the first few years of our marriage I was always shocked that they would have five half eaten boxes of cereal on the breakfast table. It was not easy for me to say o.k. I will allow more than one box of cereal to be opened at a time but after really looking at my hang up I realized that the only reason I wasn't o.k. with it was because that option was drilled out of me as a child and I did not want my children to have the same issues as me over a stupid box of cereal, when there are way more important things to be a stickler about, so I eased up and currently there are six boxes of half eaten cereal in my pantry and I really don't care.
O.k. so back to our breakfast - I pulled out four boxes of cereal and let each kid (I have 3 remember) pick out what cereal they would like to eat. And guess what every single bite of cereal that was poured into their bowls was eaten and there were no fights, there were no tears, there was just three kids eating cereal and talking about what they wanted to do after breakfast.
My daughter and youngest son are always hungry in the morning and therefore they will always eat but my middle son is not always hungry in the morning and therefore there are mornings that he doesn't eat breakfast with the other two. I will ask him what he wants for breakfast and he will tell me he isn't hungry and I will simply say "o.k. let me know when you want to eat" within an hour he will tell me he would like a bowl of cereal and then I give him breakfast. Some of you may be thinking - I am not a short order cook and I am not going to be serving meals all day and neither am I! I have busy mornings just like everyone else, I have to get three kids and myself fed and ready for the day just like other parents but I have learned that if I can avoid a fight in the morning, my morning goes a whole lot smoother than if I would force my son to sit down and eat his cereal whether he was hungry or not - all that would accomplish is hurt feelings, maybe a mess, fifteen minutes taken away from when I could be doing something else more productive and honestly how long does it take to pour a bowl of cereal? Five minutes tops if you count getting the cereal and milk out, pouring it and putting it all away. Even that doesn't take five minutes. He isn't asking for a different meal - just to eat it when he is hungry and I am o.k. with that because if I'm not hungry then I'm not going to eat either.
I also have a rule at my house and all of my kids know this rule and follow it to the letter, the rule is that if they do not eat their meal they will not have a snack, but can have their meal when they get hungry. That is applicable to all meals and because I never budge on that rule they do not even attempt to fight it. In fact there are times when my daughter will come up to me and say, "I wish I could have a snack, but because I didn't eat my lunch I know I can't" and I will tell her that she is correct and that I would be more than happy to get her lunch out for her and she can finish it if she really wants a snack. Sometimes she will ask for her lunch and sometimes she will tell me no thanks - but she takes full responsibility for why she can't have a snack because I make sure I express to all of my kids that it is up to them if they want to finish their food, but when they don't eat all of their food then they don't get snacks. I am not giving them a choice of finish your food or don't finish your food, I am just putting the responsibility completely on them to decide how badly they will want a snack later.
Now what if one of my kids said cereal and the other said pop tart? I would give one cereal and one pop tart because seriously how inconvenient would that be? Is it worth the fight? I gave them two choices and one picked one and the other picked the other and I will respect both of their wishes, because I would like to be treated with the same respect. The only time I do not allow my children to place their own orders is when I am cooking food, for example if I was feeling motivated this morning and wanted to make a hot breakfast I would have asked my kids if they wanted french toast or pancakes and if one said french toast and the other said pancakes I would tell them that I am only going to make one of them so they need to talk to each other and agree on what one they would both like to eat. The power is still in their hand and I just gave them an amazing opportunity to learn how to compromise with each other and come to a conclusion. While they are discussing I can be doing other things, like changing the baby's diaper or getting myself dressed, then when they decide I will make the one meal and they will all eat it because it is what they CHOSE!
Can you see how valuable giving kids choices can be? It literally takes away the fights and the stresses of trying to please your kids. Any questions so far? Come back tomorrow as I give more examples of using choices in your everyday life!