14 Jun Choices

Shelly Macdonald shares the following tip based on the skill of alternatives to punishment from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber & Mazlish:

In our quest to find effective strategies other than punishment, I’ve shared how to:

1. Express your feelings strongly without attacking character. “When I see water all over the bathroom floor, I feel frustrated.”

2. State your expectations. “I expect you to keep the bath water in the tub.

3. Show the child how to make amends. “What we need now are some towels to wipe up this mess.”

To continue with the theme of avoiding power struggles that naturally appear when we blame, threaten and punish (and effectively shut-down learning and cooperation), this week’s tip is:

Give the child a choice.

  • Do you prefer to take your shower tonight or tomorrow morning?
  • String beans or broccoli?
  • No running. You can hold my hand or walk calmly.
  • Would you like to walk or ride scooter to school?
  • You can set a timer or I can tell you when screen time is over. Which is better for you?

But what about when things have to get done and there’s no room for negotiation? For example, when your child has to go to school, brush her teeth, take a bath, go to bed… what then?

When the what is non-negotiable, offer a choice around how. 

Let’s use bath time as an example:

  • Do you want to hop, skip or walk backwards to the bath?
  • Would you like to turn on the faucet and select the water temperature?
  • Let’s pick out a toy to take into the bath. Or, do you prefer a whisk and plastic bowl from the kitchen to whip up some bubble meringue?

When there are seemingly endless delays:

  • What would help you get going on your homework right now?
  • Would you like to pick the alarm tone on my phone so we know when it’s time to clean-up?
  • Would you rather keep playing for 5 more minutes or stop now so we have time for another book?

If, for example, your child decides to keep playing, it’s important to hold fast and not read that extra book when she pleads and promises not to delay next time. Calmly acknowledge her disappointment and reassure her that she can make a different choice tomorrow.

We’re learning how to empower our child while our child is learning to trust and respect our limits.

In my own family, the skill of offering a choice in lieu of threats or punishment has saved us from innumerable melt-downs and battles.

The key is to make sure it’s a real choice vs. ‘my way or the highway’ type of choices.

Keep practicing and you’ll soon be a master at finding viable choices that feel good to both you and your child.

Here’s the kicker… when we avoid power struggles and empower our child instead, we actually save time (even though it may not feel that way in the moment) and have emotional energy to spare.

For me, it’s a no-brainer.

But, hey, the choice is yours!

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Shelly Macdonald is a Parent Educator and Coach who helps parents create a family life they truly love! She has worked directly with children and families in various capacities for over 20 years.