Choices

Why do we need to teach our children to obey? The first reason for me to do so as a Christian is that God’s word tells me to:

Ephesians 6:1-3 Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honour your Father and your Mother, this is the first commandment with a promise.

Also, I believe that children who are taught to obey their parents are more likely to obey God as well. If a child cannot submit to the authority of their parent, how will they learn to submit to God’s authority in their lives as they grow?

If you are noticing many occasions during the day where you are having problems with a child who is reluctant to obey, whinges and whines while they obey or flat-out tantrums when they don’t get their own way, you may have a child who is becoming “wise in their own eyes.”

A child who is given too many choice begins to imagine that they are in charge and will question your authority in unpleasant ways during the day.

Have a think back over one of your typical days. Keep a look out for every single choice you are allowing your child. Who chose:

  • when to get up?
  • what to do when they did get up?
  • which clothes and shoes?
  • which cup and plate?
  • what food for breakfast?
  • what activity after breakfast?
  • which book for story time?
  • where to sit for story time?
  • when to go outside?
  • what to do outside?
  • when to come inside?
  • what to watch on TV?
  • which toys to have in the bath?
  • where to sit for dinner……
The list is endless and these are just a few examples. Are you making these seemingly small choices for your child or are they making them for you? Choices are closely linked with freedoms. The freedoms and choices a child is given should be in harmony with their age and moral and intellectual ability. A toddler is not able to handle the same freedoms as a preschooler, who is in turn not equipped to handle the freedoms and choice an older child can cope with.
Freedom and choices should be granted as the child ages and shows that they have the maturity and responsibility to make good choices and to use their freedom well. As moral responsibility is demonstrated,  more and more freedoms are granted until they reach young adulthood and are making almost all of their own choices and decisions.
As a rough guide, it is around the age of 3 that children are ready to make some choices (e.g. jam or peanut butter?) with freedoms gradually increasing from there. A 5 or 6 year old is ready to make more choices in their day and should be able to make appropriate choices because of the modelling you have been giving them over the previous years which shows them what good decision-making looks like.
This is not to say that a younger toddler can never have a choice, it just should not be a day-to-day, all day pattern of behaviour.
How do you know if your child is “addicted to choice?” Simply take away all choices for a day and observe what happens. If the child graciously accepts your decision-making then they are probably ready to handle those decisions themselves.
Be aware though, that a toddler who has had a lot of freedom with too many choices will initially have a very bad reaction to this loss of choice and behaviour will most likely be quite difficult for a couple of days. If you are calm and consistent and continue to make all the choices for your child they will actually be much happier and calmer in the long run too.
The concept of being “wise in your own eyes” comes from “On Becoming Childwise”  which is an excellent resources for parenting your 3 to 7 year old. It includes information on choices, freedoms, routines,  and many other parenting issues:
On Becoming Childwise: Parenting Your Child from 3 to 7 Years
Mel Hayde in her book “Terrific Toddlers” covers choices and gives extensive information on how to set up a toddler’s day. My favourite book for 18 month to 3 year olds.

5 minute warning

Picture it: You are sailing in the ocean on your pirate ship, catching huge child-sized marlin as you go, just about to reach the treasure chest that is buried on the abandoned island and…Mum calls out “Bath time, come inside please.” Imagine the battle raging in a child’s heart between the desire to continue on with the game, to just find that treasure first, to whine, complain, tantrum and otherwise fail to display obedience in this situation and the moral requirement to obey.  When we put our children into this kind of siuation we set them up for failure.

Think about what it’s like as an adult to be in the middle of a project, or just about finished with something you are working on and to be called away. Frustrating!!

There are times when a child just needs to obey without a warning; first time, straight away, when Mum gives the instruction. Much of the time however, we can prepare their hearts to obey with a simple warning of the instruction about to come. Once the instruction is given, obedience is expected: immediately, first time, without complaining.

It may sound something like this:

Mum: “Pirates.”

Pirates: “Yes Mum?”

Mum: “In 5 minutes I’ll be asking you to put your ship away and come inside for a shower.”

Pirates: “Yes Mum.”

Mum (5 minutes later): “Pirates, put your ship away now and come inside please.”

Pirates: “Yes Mum”

The pirates have had time to find their treasure and prepare themselves to obey and the struggle that may otherwise have taken place inside the children has been much reduced. When a child hears themselves agree to obey, they are much more likely to follow through and actually obey.

Counting after an instruction has been given and ignored simply trains your child that obedience is not expected until the third or fourth repeat of the instruction or at “3” which is when Mum or Dad now actually require obedience. If your child can obey at “3” why not train them to obey when the instruction is given for the first time. It may even save their life one day.

The idea of giving a 5 minute warning comes from the book “On becoming Childwise”, available here.

On Becoming Childwise: Parenting Your Child from 3 to 7 Years

Routines: Highchair time

Do you want your baby or toddler to be able to sit and focus for an extended length of time? Do you want them to be able to sit and wait patiently during an unexpected delay in a public situation? Do you want time to tidy up the kitchen after meals, clear and wipe down the table and move to the next activity of the day without leaving a trail of devastation that needs to be cleaned up later?

Like all behaviours and character traits, we must actively work to build patience and concentration in our children. Highchair time is a practical way to achieve this goal with our little ones. It is easy to consistently implement and work into the daily routine without having to change much at all.

After each meal is finished, simply wipe up your child and hand them a book to read or small toy to play with. Around 20 minutes is a good time to aim for and if put into place after breakfast, lunch and dinner, gives you three daily training periods to work on these skills.

Initially, your little one may not be thrilled with Mum’s new plan and a common response will be to cry, complain, whine, throw the books and toys down and other such behaviours. If you ignore this kind of behaviour and simply go about cleaning up the kitchen, you will find that over the next few days, your child will be showing great strides towards happily sitting and concentrating on whatever it is you have chosen to give them.

If you pick up toys that are thrown down, then a very amusing game of fetch will be instigated. You may leave a child for 5 minutes and then return a dropped toy, instructing them that they need to stay in the highchair until Mummy is ready to get them down. If it is dropped again, leave it there. They will soon come to the conclusion that it is better to have something to do than nothing at all and keep what they have been given.

You may need 3 or 4 little toys or books and change them over every 5 minutes or so to keep their interest,  however this should be in Mum’s timing, not the child’s.

If you have heard about the 4 personality types, you will know that a choleric child loves to be in charge. A lot of the battles you have throughout the day and at bedtime with any child, particularly the choleric child, will be eliminated by instigating a parent led routine throughout the day, rather than allowing your young child to plan their own day or giving them large blocks of free time to fill.

An excellent resource for routine planning is Terrific Toddlers by Mel Hayde. It is my “must have” toddler and young child training book and I have gone back to it over and over. It is an easy read but is full of wisdom and excellent advice that will enable you to love the toddler years and eliminate the “terrible two” syndrome that everyone talks about. I will be posting ideas of activities to give your little one during highchair time over the next couple of days.

The 10 times rule

Our children all have them. They drive us crazy, but they’re not a big deal. The children in our family provide us with several of these little annoyances on a regular basis.

What am I talking about you ask? Leaving shoes in the middle of the doorway, forgetting to flush the toilet, leaving the back door open, forgetting to turn bedroom lights out when they leave, leaving bandaid wrappers on the bathroom bench, leaving hats on the floor under the hat rack, taking dirty dishes to the kitchen and leaving them on the bench right above the dishwasher but not in it. I could go on and on. And I know that you have a list too. Take a moment to come up with one little thing that the children in your house do that drives you batty. Now, the answer to your problem;

Ta daaa…. The 10 Times Rule. A nifty little solution (care of Meredith and Patrice– thank you) that will abolish these little bad habits in no time, with very little effort on your behalf. How does it work? Very simply. Gather the children together. Point out the offending habit. Inform them that from that moment on, anyone who persists in that bad habit will be repeating the offending action correctly 10 times.

This is what it looks like:

Child A leaves the back door open as they run out and jump on the trampoline. Child A is informed that they have not completed the task correctly (i.e. shut the door behind them) so will need to re-do the task 10 times in the correct manner. They are then required to run to the trampoline and come back to open and shut the back door (quietly) 10 times before they are free to continue on with their play. The door must be opened and shut properly and quietly and the trampoline touched each time or it does not count.

No need for a lecture, no raised voices, nothing other than supervising and counting that the 10 times has actually been done is required from Mum.  It’s kind of fun for the child the first time, but then it gets old really quickly. Family members will very soon be yelling out “10 times rule” to remind a child to shut the door because they do not want their playmate to be taken away for the time it takes to re-do it. In the same way, the child who is actually guilty of forgetting will soon start to remember as their play is held up once more. Most of these problems occur in the first place because the children are intent on getting to something they want to do, so being held up to repeat something they didn’t want to do in the first place is a great incentive not to forget the next time.

One more example; the children persist in placing dirty dishes on the bench, rather than in the dishwasher. All children are warned about the 10 times rule applying to this behaviour. Child B forgets and leaves their dirty dish on the bench. They are then required to place their dish in the dishwasher, remove the dish and take it back to the table, take it back to the dishwasher and place it in and so on, until they have repeated the task 10 times. It works and I love it!

We also have developed an extra consequence for behaviours such as leaving bandaid wrappers on the bathroom sink. Children who do this are considered to have immediately volunteered to clean the entire bathroom sink. The bathroom gets cleaned, bandaid wrappers are no longer left lying about and everybody is happy. Well… I’m happy anyway and the children are learning responsibility for their actions :)

Mat time

Mat time training allows you to go anywhere and place a simple boundary on the ground for your child to play quietly in while you can relax knowing they are safe, quiet and happy. It is wonderful for those situations where a roving, noisy toddler is simply not welcome or could even be dangerous. It teaches children sitting and focussing skills and is excellent training for future learning situations that require extended concentration.

¨       The difference between room time and mat time is that there can be interaction during mat time (as long as the child stays on the mat) and mat times happen in sight of you, wherever you are working.

¨       Start with several smaller time slots throughout the day and work up to longer time periods at a single time in the day.

¨       Plan something to do that allows you to train during this time without becoming distracted. Remember, the purpose of the short time period to start with is to finish while it is going well and praise, praise, praise! Do not be tempted initially to extend the time in this training phase because it is going well and leave it until a problem happens – end on a good note.

¨       If a child tries to get off the mat immediately say “It’s mat time, stay on the mat” and gently but firmly move them back onto the mat.

¨       If the child is consistently getting off (and you are sure they understand the expectation to stay on) you may choose to put them into their cot. They can be bought back out after a short time to try again or if still getting off the mat, you may choose to have them finish the remainder of their mat time in the cot (or some other isolation area), with or without their toys.

¨       During the initial training period, you may choose to extend the time by joining the child on the mat once their capacity for independent play is exhausted. Be wary of letting them become dependent on you for entertainment.

¨       Further consequences can also be used once training is established and a child is still deliberately disobeying.

¨       Provide a few toys, not a lot. Better to change half way through than add too many at the start. Young children become overwhelmed with too many choices and end up unable to focus on anything.

¨       Toys that “accidentally” come off the mat are not returned. Use your discretion!

¨       Introduce packing away from first use – demonstrate first, do it with the child, then expect the child to pack away independently once they have mastered the skill of doing so with help.

¨       In order for a child to pack up independently, toys must be organised very simply e.g. open crates. Do not expect a toddler to pack toys into bags and boxes.

¨       Start when you know you will be able to be home for a few days in a row and consider introducing the mat several times each day for small time increments. Once you are ready to extend the time, once a day for a longer period may be sufficient.

¨       For young children, consider doing it through the weekend until well established

¨       Have it at a similar time each day

¨       Consider having some special toys that only come out for mat time or take other toys out of general circulation so they become interesting again.

Toddlers and Cupboards.

What is it with toddlers and cupboard doors? They are naturally fascinated with opening and closing doors and of course checking out what you have stored away inside your cupboards. It is possible to simply train your toddler not to open any cupboards in the house and this may be the preferred option for you. I have in fact done this with several of my children, with the idea that I don’t want to clean up any more mess and that children need to know their physical boundaries and simply obey their parents.

While obedience and boundaries are certainly important, I have slowly come around to the conclusion (helped by having twin toddlers) that it is simply easier for everyone if there is one special door (or drawer) that toddlers can be directed to when they are itching to explore.

They will still gain the understanding that there are physical boundaries and need to obey when Mummy says “Don’t touch,” however being able to redirect that interest with the simple instruction to “Go to Jamie’s cupboard” makes obedience more palatable for them. Some parents use the plastic storage area, the pots and pans cupboard or clean out a bottom drawer. I have a ground level cupboard with a shelf that I fill with a small selection of books and toys and occasionally rotate.

As you can see by the picture, the attraction here is the cupboard itself, rather than the toys and it didn’t take long for the twins to work out how to remove the little shelf and insert themselves – usually at the same time!

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