Have you ever seen a kid have a meltdown over something that seemed unimportant? For example, you start to help your toddler get dressed and you grab the Spiderman Shirt rather than the dinosaur shirt and he suddenly goes ballistic. Or maybe you order a hamburger rather than chicken nuggets and your child throws a conniption fit in the back seat. What could be so important about a dinosaur shirt and chicken nuggets that could cause our kids to fall apart?
Frankly, the reason our kids fall apart is not about the dinosaur shirt and it isn’t about the chicken nuggets, it is about a much deeper need—a need that is found inside each person across cultures and continents. It’s the need for power! Yes our kids, just like us, crave to have power over their lives. And sometimes they are willing to do the most awful things in order to get it.
As parents, we can either be greedy when it comes to power, or we can share it with our kids. The fact is, if we don’t share it with our kids, they will eventually take it, and it will be painful for all those involved. Since we can’t just let our kids run wild in the streets, how do we share control with them in an effective way?
Love and Logic gives the following guidelines when it comes to sharing control through giving choices:
1. Give as many choices as possible when things are going well.
2. Give choices over things that will only affect the child; not the parent (Would you like to brush your teeth upstairs or downstairs? Would you like to have a pink spoon or a silver spoon with your cereal?)
3. Give choices that would be satisfactory to you no matter which choice they choose.
4. Give choices before the resistance, not after. (Giving choices after the resistance teaches kids that resistance pays off.)
5. Give your child about 10 seconds to make a choice, if it takes longer than that then you decide.
6. Giving choices shouldn’t be disguised as giving a threat. (Bad examples include: Do you want to clean up your toys or do you want me to throw them away? Do you want to do your chores or do you want to spend the rest of the week grounded?)
When it comes to sharing control with our kids, it is far better to be generous than greedy. Parents who give the control they don’t need to their kids have an easier time taking control of the situations that do matter. These parent’s say things like, “Didn’t I let you make a lot of decisions today? Well, now it is time for me to decide. Thanks for understanding.”
Shiloh Lundahl, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona. He is the founder of Parent Arizona and Counseling Services and is part of the Arizona Family Institute.
He provides parenting classes using the Love and Logic curriculum, classes for parents of children with ADHD, step-parenting classes, and advanced trainings for foster and adoptive parents. He also provides in-home therapy in Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Chandler, and Tempe, Arizona.