Over the years, one of the biggest mistakes we have seen parents make comes in the form of choices. Parents come to us and say, "Our child just is not obeying us. Where are we going wrong?" One of the issues more often than not is that the parents are allowing their child too many choices.
As many of you know we have taught the "Along the Virtuous Way" (Previously titled Growing Kids God's Way) parenting classes many times over the last 14 years. Much of what I will talk about today is credited to what we have learned in this course.
Today the mindset in parents seems to be that it is unfair or even mean not to give our children choices. We hear it everywhere. In the restaurant, in the grocery store, in the mall.....We think it's cute when they old enough to talk and are able to express their own choice,
Too many choices....do you want to wear the blue or green shirt, do you want pony tails or braids, do you want peanut butter or jam, apple juice or orange juice, white bread or brown, in quarters or halves, yellow cup or blue.....and on and on! Choice after choice is made by the child even before breakfast is even done! Then you sit down with your child and have a nice snuggly time of reading. Do you want to read this book or that one? Then it's playtime, "Do you want to play cars and trucks or lego? Now it's time for lunch and you say to your child, "Time to clean up your toys, it's time for lunch." And the child says, "No, I want to finish playing first, I will have lunch later." But you know your child needs to eat for his well being and your sanity, so you push the issue.....and what ensues? A battle, a big battle! And you stand back and think, where did this all start? Things were going so smoothly.
Well really this all started when you gave your child the choice of what to wear, the choice of what to eat, the choice of what color of cup, the choice of what to read, the choice of what to play with, the choice of whether or not to eat lunch....oh wait, you made that choice, didn't you? And that's where the battle began. Do you see the problem here? Up until now your child has been deciding what he would like and not like to do all morning, and he has been able to do them without any resistance from you. And then all of a sudden you come and mess up his little world, or so he thinks.
Choices in and of themselves are not bad. We let our children make choices every day. But the younger the child, the less choices they have. For instance our 5 year old can pick out her own clothes, but not our 3 year old. Our 5 year old can pick what she wants on her toast, but not our 3 year old. Why you ask. Because our 3 year old cannot handle the power that comes with decision making yet.
The Bible says that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. At this age children do not make their decisions based on moral reasoning or wisdom. Rather they make it out of the foolishness of their little hearts. They don't think, "Ok, it's 0 Celsius outside, I really should not wear shorts today because I might get very cold." Rather they think this way, "TodayI will wear my purple shorts and t-shirt today because I like the color purple. And I will go outside in my flip flops because they are so pretty." Not much wisdom in that is there? Yet we allow these children to make these decisions all the while thinking we are being such a good parents. And people applaud parents for this, thinking it is so nice of us to give choices to our children and not give require certain things. Because really, it's harmless right? How bad can it be to give our children a few choices?
Here's what has happened in our experience. Let's take our 3 year old right now. She likes to pick her own clothes, she likes to choose what she wants to eat, she likes to choose whether to wear boots, flip flops, shoes or cowboy boots outside.....and so on. But we make many of these choices for her. Why? Because if we don't, we see this. She decides to go into her big sisters rooms and go through their jewellery and wear some of it. She decides to go into the closet where the school books are and write in whatever one she finds. She decided to put toothpaste on her toothbrush and brush her teeth. She decides to take a vitamin whenever she pleases throughout the day. She decides to cry and fuss when asked to clean up toys for lunch. She decides to go outside whenever she pleases. Do you see what's happening?
Whenever I find that one of our children are having a hard time obeying the instructions that I give them I will evaluate if they are addicted to choice.
Here's what I would do for our 3 year old. I would say in the morning, "I want you to wear this." She will rarely fuss and cry about it (although I have had some that will) but she will come out with something else on. Addicted to choice! I will tell her "I want you to wear boots outside today." Do you know what she will do? Sometime pout or cry, but usually she will wear something else on her feet.....or my favourite....one boot and one sandal :)
Our child is addicted to choice. So what do we do? Take away the choice. Not forever, just for a time. Until we think that our child will be able to handle making the choice. And there may be times in this that I will allow her to pick out her own clothes, or footwear. But at any time I should be able to take away this choice and not see it become an issue.
As I said our 5 year old is allowed to make these choices. Why? Because if she comes out in shorts and a t-shirt one day and I ask her to change because it is too cool out, what will she do? She will go and change. She can handle not having a choice in the matter. She can handle me making the choice for her.
Now I have only talked about a 3 and a 5 year old here, but really this principle starts younger or carries on older than just these ages. As our children get older and more mature we give allow them to make more choices. As they get older and show wisdom and maturity we let them handle some choices. But there are still choices we don't allow them to make. We don't allow our almost 12 year old to drive the ATV whenever he would like, but we allow our 15 year old to. Why the difference? Age, maturity and wisdom. For families with children that are close to the same ages it very typically happens that we give our children too many choices just because the older one has them and we treat them equally. We have been guilty of this. This is not a healthy thing for the younger child. We need to be constantly aware of this.
I could go on and on....but I hope you get the picture of how important it is not to allow your child to have too many choices before they are ready. If you are wondering if this is an issue with your child, take some choices away. See how they react. Do they flip out when they can't choose the color of their cup? Do they refuse to eat when you don't give them their choice of food? Do they fall on the floor if you don't cut their bread a certain way? Do they cause a scene at the restaurant when you pick off the menu for them? Do they wear something different than what you have laid out for them? Then they probably are addicted to choice.
We are seeing that our 3 year old is getting very close to being able to make her own choices in some areas. Take her clothing for example. When we forget to lay something out for her she will come to us and ask us to pick her clothes. This shows that she is okay with us making the choice. Look for these signs in your parenting. They show that your child may be ready to make choices in a certain area. But if you find your child is having "issues" in certain areas, test if they are addicted to choice. Make the choice for them, see how they react, maybe they weren't ready after all.
I will say that it is much easier to carefully think through the choices you allow your child the freedom to make. It is much easier not to give them the choice than to take away the choice. Reparenting is never fun!
So I challenge you to do the "addicted to choice" test. How did your child do? Are they addicted to choice? Or are they just fine with allowing you to have you make the choice for them? If you take away the choice at any given time, are they OK with it? If you find that you and your child seem to be going head to head all day, this may just be part of the problem. I am not saying it will charge everything, but it surely will help!
Foolishness is bound up
in the heart of a child.