Maybe you are familiar with a game show from the 60's and 70's called "Let's Make a Deal". The premise of the show was to come away with something more valuable than what you came with. The contestants would "make a deal" with the hopes of trading up in value whatever they currently had. Perhaps one of their deals would land them a car ... or perhaps they would end up with a hard-boiled egg. At the end of the game, the contestants had the possibility to gamble away their current prize by trading it for an item behind Door #1, Door #2 or Door #3. The last big chance to make it big!
We have a little girl living in our house that would have loved to be on that show. Sweet, little Ashley. She is always vying for something a little better, a little more her style and a little more like what she has in mind. Especially when it comes to obedience. And especially when obedience doesn't quite fit her plan.
We have a practice here in our home that we learned from the book Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. It has certainly worked with the older two kids, but has been a bit of a stumper for our third. When we need one of the kids to do something (something that they are not particularly keen on) we give them two options on how to complete the task. For example, if they need to have a coat, they may wear it or carry it. If they have a chore to do, they may do it now or in 5 minutes. If they need to get cleaned up, they may take a bath or a shower. If they need to get dressed, they can pick out their clothes or Mommy can. If they need to go to their room because they are pitching a fit, they can either walk there or be carried.
Pretty simple. Two options that they can accomplish. Two options we can accept as obedience.
Inevitably, however, Ashley requests whatever is behind Door #3. If she needs to have a coat, she either opts not to bring one (with a lengthy discussion about how warm she is and how sun-shiny it appears outside) or gets someone else to get it for her. If she has a job to do, she will attempt to talk her way out of the job by arguing that everybody else in the house is more able to accomplish it or that somebody else is responsible for the mess. If she needs to be bathed, she requests a bath tomorrow or a shower with Norah. If she needs to get dressed, she doesn't want anyone to pick the clothes out. I think you get the picture.
She is famous in our house for always trying for option #3 ... and driving Brett and I crazy in the process. As I presented her with a reasonable option the other day (peanut butter & jelly sandwich or meat & cheese sandwich) she requested mac-n-cheese. Here's how the rest of the conversation went:
"Sorry ... PB&J or meat & cheese?"
"I said, mac-n-cheese."
"We don't have any mac-n-cheese. PB&J or meat & cheese?"
"I really want mac-n-cheese."
"I'm sorry ... PB&J or meat & cheese?"
"Can I have a bowl of cereal?"
"Ummm ... no. PB&J or meat & cheese?"
(Now, before you think that maybe I'm being unreasonable and she doesn't like PB&J or meat & cheese, don't worry. I've also had this conversation with the options being mac-n-cheese and PB&J and mac-n-cheese and meat & cheese. And mac-n-cheese and cereal. She just really likes Door #3.)
Now come the water works ... "I really want mac-n-cheese!"
"We. Don't. Have. Any. Mac-n-cheese. Would you like PB&J or meat & cheese?"
sniff, sniff ... "I guess I'll have meat & cheese ..." sniff ... "What can I have to drink?"
"Well ... we have milk or water."
"Can I have juice?"
sigh ... "Nope ... we have milk or water."
And so it goes ...
She just has a idea in her head of how she would really like her life to go and she is very persistent in her quest to see that come to fruition. The bummer for her is that we are rather persistent, too. Notice that I didn't change my broken-record response to her many protests regarding lunch options. We have found that if we have two viable options for our kids, then we work hard to stick by them and let the little people come to terms with the choices we offer. As long as the two options are things that they can live with and the results are something Dad & Mom can live with, it works.
For example, if Ashley is having trouble getting dressed in the morning, I wouldn't give her the options of: A) Not wearing clothes, or B) Wearing clothes. I'm not willing to let her run around nakie all day ... even if she's super cute! I'm also not going to give her options she can't cope with. For example: A) the pants she doesn't like, or B) the skirt that is scratchy. The choices I offer her need to be acceptable to both parties. Then we let the little missy wrestle through the actual choosing.
I have found that there are two interesting results of this type of "You Choose" parenting. For one, this is a rather un-emotional interaction on my part. I give my kiddos the two choices and let them work it out. My job is to stay strong and keep offering the same two options, but I typically don't get emotionally involved or emotionally charged in the battle. Sometimes the decision process goes on a long time. A long time. Much longer than I can believe. And sometimes I have to go in the other room because the battle makes my head hurt. But in the end, the little person makes his or her own choice and I have been simply the choice-giver not the choice-forcer.
And that is the second interesting aspect of this parenting technique. When the little person makes their own choice, they are proud of themselves. We have watched our kids (finally) make their choice and come out of the experience a little taller. Sweet Ashley will be so very, very mad at the options she has been given to brush her hair or let Mommy do it ... crying, crazy mad. But when she comes down with her hair brushed out nicely, she's also smiling and has that "I did it myself" look on her face. Or perhaps she comes downstairs and asks me to brush her hair ... and she's still smiley and wants to hug and make-up. There is no "I'm Mom and I won" or "I'm the kid and I won". It's simply a lesson in making a wise choice with the options offered.
This is another opportunity for us to be training up our kids to be adults, because in reality how many choices do we really have as big people? We usually have two options in the choices we make ... eat in or eat out? watch TV or read a book? go to bed now or after this show? buy the purse or save my money? We'd hate for the kids to be disillusioned later in life! :)
Now just so you are sure ... we did not come up with this parenting technique ourselves, but we sure like the results! For more creative parenting ideas to nip some of these typical childhood-troubles in the bud, check out the Love & Logic Parent Resources. There are literally pages and pages of helpful tools to help your little people grow from a "Me Do It My Way" kid to ... well ... anything more pleasant! :) Also, if you go to their home page and click on "Parents" and "Help Me Find a Solution" you can find a tid-bit of help for everything from helping your kid to do their chores to sibling rivalry.
Just be prepared that the ideas might seem a bit strange. This technique to parenting definitely encourages you to think outside the box of how we naturally respond.
I guess it's kind of like choosing Door #3. Bargaining up for something better!