Here's how to keep things calm and drama-free when your child isn't listening.
Say you give your child choice A or B...and they choose C. Now what?
For example, it's time to leave, so you ask, "Are you going to put on your shoes all by yourself [choice A] or would you like my help [choice B]?" Reasonable choices that are typically a slam dunk, and out the door you go.
But today, your child ignores you, runs away, picks up their shoes and throws them across the room. That's a lot of choice C.
You might find yourself heating up, tipping over the edge, and marching your child firmly by the arm to make them do just what you want them to do.
You might find yourself pleading over and over, hoping to avoid a meltdown and still get out the door in one piece (though definitely not on time).
You may be frustrated because you understand choices are good, and here you've given them what is good for their little independent selves...and it didn't seem to work.
Here's the thing: Your child chose C because it is his job.
His job is to practice being in charge of himself as often as possible. His job is to test you, to let you know HIS preference, to state loud and clear "I am the boss of ME!"
And your child is right. He IS the boss of himself, and as the boss, he gets to ultimately decide what choice he will make. This is truly evidence of just the kind of self-directed, independent soul you (most of the time) want to grow. Someone who is in charge of themselves.
Okay, but you still need to get out the door. To continue to support your child in their quest to be independent it is important to respect their choice. How does this look and still get out the door—maybe on time?
Describe what you see and acknowledge feelings, always
"It looks like you aren't ready to put your shoes on. I can see how mad you feel. It is time to go, and because it is too hard for you to choose I will choose for you."
And maybe you then wrangle your child into your lap and wrestle their shoes on—calmly, matter-of-factly, communicating your respect that they chose otherwise, communicating clearly the result of their choice. And now your child has the opportunity to discover whether they LIKE the result of choice C. Because you are calm and matter-of-fact, it isn't about YOU, it is about them and their choice.
This is truly an opportunity for learning and growth.
Let them see the results of "choice C"
What if it is fruitless to wrestle shoes on, since it takes just one swift kick and the shoes go flying off once again? Maybe the result of their choosing C is that you pick them up in one arm, their shoes in another, and out the door you go. This gives them the opportunity to decide if choice C really was something they liked.
If they don't...Say something like: "You chose to not put on your shoes. You don't like bare feet, it makes you really upset. When we get to school, you can decide if you are going to put on your shoes by yourself or with my help."
(Again, describe what you see and name the feelings!)
Now your child learns a bit more about what they are responsible for—all because you've respected their choice and responded calmly and matter-of-factly about what needs to happen.
Find "option D"
Or maybe you can tell your child needs option D, and you are okay with that.
"Hmmm...looks like you really want to keep playing with your marbles. We need to get shoes on and head out. You can bring your marbles with you if you like. I'd really like to see the biggest one of all! Can you come show me while we put on your shoes?"
And now you've respected their desires, flowed with their energy, and still pointed them in the direction necessary to go. They can feel in charge, and you can feel grateful it worked.
Staying calm and matter-of-fact helps your child discover whether or not he likes the result of the choice he made—now influencing him in such a way that the next time around he may be more likely to choose differently.
What does this require of us? Patience. Understanding. Humor! Consistency. Stamina. Creativity. The ability to PAUSE—essential for helping you find that calm place to respond, that calm place from which to be okay if meltdowns occur.
Choice C—it really is okay. Breathe through it, honor it and be clear on what you really want. Communicate respect for your child's choice and encourage the growth of an independent soul. And still get out the door.
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