Last week I wrapped up my series of Practical Parent Talk (PPT) classes with Kathy Salazar. I know I haven’t done the best job in passing down a tip each week as I promised I would during my time in the series. Sorry about that! But now that I am all done, I’ll be back here and there with a few tiny tips for you to kick off summer with the kids.
During our PPT class, we discussed setting limits with our kids by offering them controlled choices. You probably are already familiar with this one and didn’t even realize it. Say you are getting ready to prepare breakfast for your son. Do you ask, “What do you want for breakfast?” or do you ask, “Would you like eggs or cereal with your fruit?” See the difference here? One is pretty wide open and limitless (and has potential to be pretty chaotic should the boy demand homemade banana pancakes with just 10 minutes before you need to get to school!), while the other option offers the child a choice between two things that you are already OK with preparing. Oh, and you also threw in that the child is expected to have fruit with whatever they choose for breakfast, too, and you did it all without being demanding about it either.
Is this sneaky? Of course it is. But is it empowering your kids to learn how to make their own choices? Yes. Some also might say that giving our kids choices allows them too much power over a situation and over us, the parents. Yes, I can see where some might see it this way. However, if you are offering them a choice between two things that you are OK with them having already, what’s the power struggle all about here? Not much at all really!
Let’s kick this up to the next level. Now that you’re familiar with the “controlled choice” portion of the Parent Talk program, what do you do when it’s the child asking the questions and asking your permission to do something? This could be anything from the usually harmless snack-time question of, “Can I have a snack?” to more responsible-laden requests of, “Can I borrow the car?”
Now, let’s pretend that the answer to either of the above questions is, “Yes,” BUT we’re not going to just tell the child yes. In fact, we’re not even going to use the word “yes” but instead use the phrase “you decide.” Here’s how it works.
1. You have decided to give up the role of decision-maker. This means that you have to be a-OK with whatever the child chooses. You can’t second-guess it, and you can’t correct the choice. I know, it means giving up a little power, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because of number 2, which is…
2. You already know the answer to whatever the child has asked is, in fact, “yes.” So really, whatever the kid decides to do is OK, even if they choose NOT to exercise the yes-side of the choice!
3. No thought is necessary. When the answer to the child is a no-brainer “yes” then use “you pick/decide/choose.” Sometimes this will be without conditions, and other times you may need to state condition(s) that go along with their choices to be sure that they know what is expected of them should they choose, pick, or decide “yes.”
Examples of “You Decide” without any conditions (first the child’s question, then the parent’s answer):
“May I call Grandpa?” – “You decide.”
“Can I pick up these toys after the park?” – “You choose.”
“Can I try out for the school play?” – “That’s up to you.”
Examples of “You Decide” with conditions (I’ll reintroduce the two initial examples I gave above):
“Can I have a snack?” – “So long as it includes a piece of fruit and won’t spoil your dinner in another hour or two. You decide.”
“Can I borrow the car?” – “If you can remember to bring the car back without trash inside of it and with the gas tank filled. It’s your choice.”
By transitioning from using the word “yes” to this “you decide” permission-giving alternative, parents have the means to empower our kids with the ability to make decisions. The choices and decisions on the line at age five or six don’t seem like that big of a deal, but just think about those adult friends or family members you might know who are completely unable to make a solid decision on their own. Ever wonder why this “decision paralysis” happens? So don’t you think it’s a good idea to introduce decision-making skills to your own kids sooner than later, RMT’ers? I’ll let you decide how to answer those questions.