“If you don’t listen to me right now, you’re gonna get it!” “If you two don’t quit fighting right now, you can forget about TV when we get home!” Sound familiar? Though threats and ultimatums may get the job done, it does not leave parent or child feeling too great. More importantly, it teaches our kids to respond only out of fear in answer to parents’ directives. In the long term, it simply does not nurture and support our children.
Many parents try to empower their kids, as well as de-escalate conflict, by giving choices. “You can choose to wear this outfit or that one.” That’s a great start! Being prepared with the right thing to say in a stressful situation increases the chances that what our children will hear next will be constructive and positive. Let’s look at an example of a four-year-old who keeps taking French fries from her six-year-old brother’s plate. Notice how the word “choice” is used four times.
“Rebecca, you can choose to eat only your food and that way you’ll choose to sit at the table and have dinner with the family,” or,
“You can choose to continue trying to eat your brother’s food and that way you’ll choose to sit away from the table for five minutes.”
The very next time she reaches for a French fry, you gently respond by saying, “I see you’ve chosen to sit by yourself for a few minutes.” Oftentimes, children will instantaneously “choose” to modify their behavior, with some version of:
“I won’t eat his French fries anymore, Mommy.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie. The moment you chose to take one more French fry is the moment you chose to sit by yourself for a few minutes.”
Because after all, once your children have left the protective nest of your home, don’t you want to be sure you have done your best to teach them that the moment they choose to drink, smoke, sniff or ingest something they should not, they are at the risk of very negative consequences?
A very important note to keep in mind is “the smaller the child, the smaller the consequence.” But no matter the age of the child, the beauty of letting your kids choose the desired [or undesired] consequence, the responsibility of the outcome belongs to them. In that way, you can be remain calm, empathetic and compassionate even if they are upset with the consequences of their choice. ✿
Laura Weissman is a bilingual (Spanish/English) registered Marriage & Family Therapist intern in private practice in Laguna Hills, under the supervision Sheila Diskin, MFT.