Cooperation Begins with Trust

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When Children Test Limits and Don’t Accept Choices

When Children Test Limits and Don’t Accept Choices

Understanding why children test limits and sometimes refuse to cooperate with parents even when given choices.

So you give your child choice A or B…and they choose C (not a or b but a made up choice by them) Now what?

This is where many parents stumble, for really choice A and B were ones that you really wanted them to take to make it easy for you. And darn it all, they choose C.

You know–it is 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 and typically it is 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 (lots of choice C’s!).

You might find yourself heat up and tip over the edge and march 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. 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.

Your child chose C because it is his job.

Consider this. Your child chose C because it is his job. His job to practice being in charge of himself as often as possible. Her job to test you, to let you know HER 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?

Here are some ideas for when children test limits and don’t accept choices:

 “It looks like you aren’t ready to put your shoes on (acknowledge feelings, always). 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…and because you are calm and matter-of-fact, it isn’t about YOU, it is about them and their choice.

Or maybe it is fruitless to wrestle shoes on, for it takes just a swift kick and the shoes go flying off once again. So maybe the result of their choosing C is you pick them up in one arm, their shoes in another, and out the door you go. Accepting but not engaging the tantrum in the back seat about “I don’t WANT bare-feet!” again gives them the opportunity to decide if choice C really was something they liked. “You chose to not put on your shoes. You don’t like bare-feet (there’s that acknowledging feelings piece that is key). When we get to school, you can decide if you are going to put on your shoes by yourself or with my help.” 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 with what needs to happen–letting go of what you’d hope they choose, letting go of needing them to choose it your way.

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’d 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 to 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 Power of Pause–essential for helping you find that calm place to respond, that calm place from which to be okay if meltdowns occur, if the house is left a disaster zone, if your car’s back seat looks like a junk pile as you throw everything in and get a move on. It requires us to let go of needing our child to respond in a certain way so we can feel the good parent, feel relieved, feel less embarrassed (think ‘choice c’ in a public place!), feel we are in control.

In essence, we need to be in control of ourselves no matter what our child chooses to do. Tough, at times. And essential, if we intend to grow a self-directed, responsible (and compassionate, cooperative, creative…) future adult.

Choice C. It really is okay. Breathe through it, honor it, and be clear on what you really want, for now you communicate respect for another’s choice and encourage the growth of an independent soul. And still get out the door.

©2014 Alice Hanscam Denali Parent Coaching, LLC