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.

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 🙂