I was having a conversation the other day with a parent who struggling with a particularly strong willed child. This little guy fought his mother on EVERYTHING! It was driving her nuts. Thinking back to the early years with my son, I could totally relate with her situation. She needed a tool for her parenting toolbox that she could start using immediately.
So what was my suggestion you might be asking? It was to give her son more control. She sat in stunned silence at the suggestion. After a moment or two, she politely pointed out that this is EXACTLY the cause of the conflict between she and her son. She questioned how in the world giving him more control would make her life easier. I gladly explained:
- Think about the world from a child's perspective. We are always bossing them around, telling them what they can and can't do, when to eat, when to go to bed, etc. So if you look at the world from their shoes, they really don't have a lot of control.
- Control is a basic human need. I mean, come on, we all like to feel in control, whether that be at work or in our personal life. There are very few of us who enjoy being bossed around.
- What do we do when we feel bossed around or out of control? We try to figure out a way to get it back of course. So how do kids do this? Well by digging their heels in whenever and wherever they can. Sometimes it is over the stupidest things. I recall one mom sharing her story of a knock down drag out over a cracker. Yes. That's right, I said a cracker.
Okay, so how do you give kids more control without shooting yourself in the foot? Simple. You give them lots of little choices about things that don't bother you. When we share control with kids all throughout the day, they have less need to seek it out in less desirable or inopportune moments. Here are some simple ways to share control:
- Do you want peas or beans with dinner?
- Do you want to wear your coat or carry it?
- Do you want to clean your room before or after dinner?
- Do you want to brush your teeth before your story or after your story?
Get the idea? Sounds pretty easy, right? Not necessarily. This requires us to change the way WE do things and change is hard. I find the use of visual cues can be helpful when trying to implement a new technique. For example, simply writing the word "choices" on a sticky note and putting on the frig, bathroom mirror, computer monitor, etc. This is a great way to remind yourself to do it. Also, take baby steps. Try the choices at targeted times during the day, e.g., mealtimes or perhaps bedtime. From there, expand to other areas of your day.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
- Offer the choices when things are going well.
- Never offer a choice that you can't live with.
- If they don't make a choice, you will. Make the choice within a short period of time, e.g., ten seconds.
- If they try to add a third choice, say "Nice try!" and offer the choices again. If they persist, you make the choice.
Want to learn more about shared control and the power of choices? Check out the Love and Logic Institute. While you are there, be sure to sign up for their free newsletter.
Do you share control with your kids? What kinds of choices do you give? Has it decreased some of the power struggles with your child? Share you story!