Relinquish your power on the things that don’t matter

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

I don’t share many parenting tips here, mostly because I don’t have a lot. I’ll venture into pantry organization or budgeting — but raising up the next generation? Now that’s territory in which I feel rather unqualified to write.

That said — I do have a few tricks up my sleeve. And this one is one I use often, and usually works brilliantly.

Offer pre-filtered choices.

Young children think concretely, and they often see the world in black and white. They’re also vying for control in their life, and are constantly testing the waters of independence.

How often do you hear “I wanna do it!” from your young preschooler? If you’re me, you hear it all day long. And it’s not a bad thing — it’s a sign of healthy confidence when your preschooler wants to put on her own socks, or carry his cereal bowl to the table.

The trick is to know when to give her the independence she wants, and when to reel her free spirit closer to you.

A few years ago I read the book Parenting With Love And Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay, and it really transformed my parenting philosophy. One of the authors’ key points is to allow freedom for the 95 percent of decisions that don’t matter, so that you can fully claim control for the 5 percent that do.

In other words, when the outcome isn’t important, give your child the power to choose. When the outcome is important, make the decision unwaveringly and unapologetically — and hopefully, you’ve made enough independence deposits into your child’s account to keep him from being crushed when his freedom is relinquished.

Because young kids are easily overwhelmed, help narrow down their choices, so that they have finite options for decision-making.

You probably already do this, in some sense. Let me show you what I mean.

Scenario #1

Your daughter, Anne, likes to dress herself in the morning. You’re not going anywhere today, so it doesn’t really matter what she wears. But if you give her free reign, she’ll unload her entire dresser and change six times before breakfast.

  • ANNE: I want to pick my clothes!
  • MOM: Sure. Here is your pink shirt and your purple shirt. Which one would you like?
  • ANNE: The pink shirt!

Anne was given the freedom to wear the pink shirt from a finite amount of options — the pink one or the purple one.

Scenario #2


Photo by Margaret Wyker

You can also invent decisions to be made, almost in a silly way:

  • DAD: Hey bud, I’m having a ball with you at the park. We need to go soon. Should we leave now, or in ten minutes?
  • ETHAN: In ten minutes!
  • DAD: Sounds good.

Ethan was given the “power” to choose, but they’re still leaving the park. Staying at the park all day wasn’t one of his options.

Scenario #3

This doesn’t always work — sometimes your daughter takes too long to decide, or she has a whiny attitude even about the choices she’s been given. In this case, you simply make the decision and move on. You be the adult.

  • DAD: Lucy, I’d like you to pick the vegetable for dinner tonight. Would you like green beans or broccoli?
  • LUCY: But I don’t want vegetables at dinner!
  • DAD: We need a vegetable at dinner because they’re good for our bodies, and besides, they’re yummy.
  • LUCY: But I don’t want one. (Ten seconds pass)
  • DAD: I’ll make the decision. We’re having green beans.

And then the subject is changed to something else, and the decision is made and over with.

Scenario #4

Hopefully, if you’ve given your child enough decision-making power throughout the day for the insignificant choices, you can claim your responsibility as a parent by standing firm with the decisions that do matter.

  • MOM: Alright, Peter, it’s 7:30. It’s time to brush your teeth and get ready for bed.
  • PETER: But I don’t want to go to bed!
  • MOM: I understand. But your bedtime is 8 o’clock, and you were given lots of choices today. Now it’s my turn to make the choice about what we do next.


Photo by Juhan Sonin

Peter was probably given the decision about what cereal to eat for breakfast, whether to play with blocks or trucks after lunch, and which book to read before his quiet time. So Mom can more easily claim the power to decide when he needs to hit the sack.

I don’t share this with the experience of 100% success. But this idea has worked well with our incredibly independent four-year-old, and she is almost always a happy, compliant child.

To sum up:

Let your child “do it” when she asks, if the end result doesn’t matter.
• Allow her to make choices all throughout the day, choosing from a finite amount of selections.
• When your child doesn’t cooperate, make the decision for him and move on.
You make the decisions that do matter, and claim your position as a parent cheerfully and unwaveringly.

For more on this idea about making independence deposits into your child’s account, along with other parenting ideas, I recommend picking up a copy of Parenting With Love And Logic.

Do you have any experience with this technique in your relationship with your child?

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Comments

  1. My daughter is young, so we do not get to use this quite yet but this is how my Mom parented me growing up! I really think it is great advice!! Thank you for sharing!!
    .-= Cindy ´s last blog ..It is all about books tonight! =-.

  2. This is the approach we take with our three year old, but I’d say 50% of the time we still have whining after a choice is made. We’re working on it.
    .-= Tepary´s last blog ..Baby Steps =-.

  3. This is great advice. Like Cindy, my mom also used this with us growing up. I have a 3 year old daughter and sometimes the choice making for her is a bit of a stalling technique (especially around nap or bed time). So, usually I’ll say, here are 3 choices. If you can choose one in the next minute (or whatever time period), then you get your choice. Otherwise, I’ll choose one.

    But the basic truth–focusing on the things that really matter–is so crucial. My mom always warns me to be careful about the things I say, ‘No’ to. I’m finding this is true–to pick our battles wisely around the issues that truly matter is crucial.

    Thanks!
    .-= Nicole at Burning Bushes´s last blog ..Overcoming Evil =-.

  4. Wow, this is great advice. I can’t wait until I have kids to apply it to. :)

    Of course, I think it’s important to let the things that don’t matter go everyday in life too.
    .-= Mrs. Money´s last blog ..If You Can’t Eat it, Don’t Put it on Your Skin =-.

  5. Love and Logic was the most important thing to bring peace to our house after sleeping through the night. You can find TONS of great information at http://www.loveandlogic.com. I have found that listening to their seminars on CD or in person has been much more effective for me that just reading the book, guess that’s how I learn ;-)

  6. Great point, Tsh. I’ve learned a lot from watching my husband who is brilliant with this. And he certainly lays the law down. I have a harder time being absolute. But what I noticed is how much more relaxed the kids were with him and his much more structured, disciplined supervision. With me they didn’t have the same sense of limits and boundaries that makes them feel safer, makes it easier for them to focus on their activity, etc. Over time I’ve learned, and started to see the amazing benefits, of being the adult and limiting my children’s choices.

    Believe me, as an adult often overwhelmed with the decisions I have to make each day, I sometimes wish I had someone making them for me. So certainly, let them choose where it’s not a big deal, but make the choices, get things done and let all of you relax with the results. (BTW, it also gets easier when your kids expect you to make choices and know you’ll stand firm – the more you waffle or backtrack, the more they sense the opening and run with it)

    Sarah Clachar
    http://www.fitfamilytogether.com
    .-= Sarah Clachar´s last blog ..Essential for Family Fitness, Home Gyms Let You "Sneak Some Extra In" =-.

  7. We use this frequently with our 2 and 4 year old. Many times they just want to feel in control rather than always be told, and this also gives them another way to help – which they generally like to do. But, there are the tantrums when they just can’t or won’t make a decision. Sometimes they just need to be heard, and understood. I try to remember when they are throwing a fit to hold them and quietly talk to them, trying to get them to engage or think about something else. I ask them questions about a toy they don’t want to give up, or recap what we did during the day so far, or ask them their favorite things. I also try to validate their feelings “I know it isn’t fun to get ready for bed, I know that can make you mad. We had a lot of fun today, we did …” It helps calm them down so they aren’t focussed on the fit anymore.

    • Yes, validating their feelings is important, too. L&L talks about this as well, and your example is a good one. :)

  8. I learned a lot of Love and Logic techniques as a teacher, and I have found the philosophy translates so easily from classroom management to parenting.

    I give LOTS of choices, and I also develop scripts to deal with misbehavior issues. For example, “Well, you chose to hit your sister, and now you have to get off of the trampoline and come sit next to me for a while until you can use your hands in a safe way.” And then when there are protests to consequences (and there almost always are, right?), I just rely on my script, “That was your choice, and this is the consequence.”

    Our oldest is only five, so at this point I am just hoping and praying that all of the emphasis on freedoms and choices and owing your actions is settling in!

    Thanks for bringing attention again to this really helpful aspect of parenting, Tsh!
    .-= Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last blog ..Chorus of Joy – Linn =-.

  9. I want to add that helping our kids learn to make choices when they are little is going to help them be capable of making choices when they are older, rather than being frustrated at their own indecision. ;D

    • Yes, this is very true. It’s amazing how important those first five years are for developing skills like decision-making.

  10. Thanks for sharing Tsh. I’ve read this book before and I do think there are helpful things to be gleaned from their approach. It’s useful to think of things more concretely, as I am not apt to do that. I do like the idea of empowering my child with finite options so she can learn what it mean’s to have a choice – it’s something we try to do as young as she is. I’ll have to reread the book again some time!

  11. This is such an important book for parenting! My mother-in-law sent it to me when I had custody of my step-daughter while my husband was deployed last. She comes from a very dysfunctional home, so we had LOTS of issues to work with. Allowing her to “control” her situation by allowing her to chose between those finite options was the best thing for her. She didn’t have any control over her situation at her mother’s, so having a safe, Christian environment where SHE was able to help choose her path was a God send for the both of us. I highly recommend this book. Thanks Tsh!

  12. This is great! As I read through your examples, I could easily envision countless similar examples with our two and five year old kids. I am going to make a conscious effort to let them make more (minor) decisions and see how that pays off.

    Thanks!
    .-= Dustin | Engaged Marriage´s last blog ..Why Take Marriage Preparation? Plus an Awesome Giveaway! =-.

  13. this post was great…i love the idea of providing options…i often do this but not intentionally…i really like the park scenario… i will be trying this today!
    .-= from the desk of …me´s last blog ..I’m Engaged!!!!! =-.

  14. We use that technique also. One thing that we do that has been super helpful with the “I’m not ready to go to bed!” complaint is offer our almost 4 yr old the option of staying up 5 more minutes and not having a bed time story or go to bed now and get to read a story. It only took once of her not getting her bedtime story and she always chooses to go to bed on time. It has almost completely stopped the power struggle in our house!

  15. I started trying this approach when my daughter was 1 – she’ll be three in less than a month. It NEVER works – the little miss ALWAYS chooses something outside of the two or three choices I give her.

    Time out was the next option, which kinda sorta worked for a while. She felt the consequences, at least (spankings never phased her).

    The only working method I’ve come up with is distraction, which sometimes looks a lot like bribery. That or brute force – for the battles that REALLY matter.
    .-= Mozi Esmes Mommy´s last blog ..Not Me! Monday =-.

    • In this case, if one of the two (or three, or four) choices aren’t selected, then in my opinion, she loses the privilege of making the choice, and you do it for her. So in essence, choosing something out your finite options isn’t an option at all, so you quickly make the decision and move on.

      As an example:

      MOM: Would you like to read a book or to do a puzzle?
      KID: I want to watch TV!
      MOM: Sorry, that wasn’t an option. Let’s read a book.

      …and then move on. I’m not saying it’s easy, or that there won’t be whining. But eventually, after sticking to your guns of only choosing between finite choices where both are fine, the whining gets less and choices are more easily made.

      This is just in my experience, anyway. :)

      • I agree Tsh. My kids have learned pretty quickly that if they don’t make the choice then I will. They don’t always like it and certainly whine sometimes, but if you stick to your guns and make the decision and move on, they’ll learn.
        .-= Tessa´s last blog ..Quick checkup =-.

  16. I will never forget when my seven year old came home from church with another family member one day. My husband told her to get ready for bed and she said she didn’t want to. He said, “Now!” and she quoted the preacher from that morning had said about fathers and daughters.”You know, you might win this battle but you won’t win the war.” We had to leave the room and laugh. It was so funny. But she still had to go to bed.
    .-= Angela @ Homegrown Mom´s last blog ..10 Signs That You May Need a Break =-.

  17. Great advice! I have just started to do this with my almost two year old, and he is so proud of himself when he gets to choose. The other day, he was given the option to choose teddy grahams or goldfish at the grocery store. He chose goldfish and and that was the end of it!

  18. Parenting with Love and Logic is a GREAT read! I, too, give my kids choices like you described in the scenarios above. Sometimes, I get weird looks when we’re in public, but I don’t feel the need to explain myself. “Luke, do you want to leave the playground now or in 10 minutes?” Which one do you think he chooses?
    I like, too, how this book teaches us that by TEACHING our children to make choices NOW, they’ll (hopefully) be able to make more and more appropriate choices as they get older. If we never give them any choices now, how can they possibly learn to make decisions?
    And you’re right, the clothes DO not matter. My 5 year-old daughter wore this to preschool today: orange and black candy corn patterned leggings, a green/white striped long sleeve shirt, a rainbow headband, purple socks, and pink and white shoes. She looked awesome! More importantly, I didn’t have to get her dressed :)
    .-= Melanie at Parenting Ink´s last blog ..The Bed =-.

  19. My kids are all moving into tween and teen age, and I still think these tips will be very helpful. I just wish I had them ten years ago! Thanks so much for sharing,

  20. My kids are teenagers now, and this strategy still works but in a different way. Teenagers are struggling for autonomy, and sometimes you just have to give up the control on things that don’t matter so much. I let my teens keep their rooms messy (except for once every few months when they have to prevent mold growth!). I hate it, but it gives them control of “their space”, and I can always close the door. I tell them the rules, and then give them enough freedom to make good choices. I try not to micromanage. But they know the consequences of bad choices! Teenagers are often like 3-year-olds in their demands to “do it my own way”.

  21. I really like this aspect of love and logic. We use it a lot, and sometimes forget, so it was nice to have the reminder! We use the 10 minute thing for getting out of the bath a LOT. My mom looked at me like I was crazy the first time she heard me give her that choice. BUT I didn’t have to fight with her to get out either!
    .-= Jackie Lee´s last blog ..Menu Plan Monday 3-15 =-.

  22. I love this idea. IT is what we practice at our house. So far we have made it to the age of three without many of the usual toddler tantrums and meltdowns. I feel that is in a large part to my son’s personality but also accredit some of it to this style of parenting.

  23. I love giving my kids the freedom to choose… especially when it means I have to make just 5% of the decisions!!! I really don’t mind what they are wearing or if they choose two vegi’s or three with their dinner!!! I really do care that they get to bed on time and they get into their car seats without a fuss… I guess it boils down to picking your fights!!!

  24. We’re big Love and Logic fans around here. I especially like the emphasis on training your children for future behavior. I don’t know of any other successful way to teach them how to be responsible for their own actions than to give them lots of practice while they’re young.
    .-= Amy@flexibledreams´s last blog ..Menu Monday =-.

  25. We have an 18 month old and are just beginning to use these “choice” techniques! It’s great stuff! Have you read “Loving Our Kids On Purpose” by Danny Silk? He bases a lot of his work on L & L too. Love your writings, even send people with links over to your blog from mine too! Thanks for sharing your God-driven wisdom.

  26. This is something I’m trying to make a conscious effort on – not just saying “no” for the sake of getting the kids out of my hair. Most of the time, what they’re asking for isn’t going to hurt/harm them – it might just inconvenience me for a few seconds. Learning to say “yes” or at least listen to the question is my current parenting self-given homework!
    .-= Ashley´s last blog ..Back to SCHOOL!!! =-.

  27. Like earlier commenter CoachBarrie, my kids are in the ‘tween/teen stage. My oldest, who’s 13 year old, has been frustrated with what he refers to as “everyone controlling his life.” You can’t go back, but boy do I wish I would have implemented this sooner. Your post has motivated me to have a heart-to-heart this weekend about the things he can have control or input on. Thank you!

  28. I love this book. The whole series, really. They have books from “the younger years” on up to the teen years. We started using the technique with my son when he was six months old and very quickly taught him to stay out of kitchen cabinets, away from stairs, etc. Very simple. He’s a rule-abider though :) It got more difficult when my daughter was born. Mostly because offering choices to both of them (just 22mo apart) at the same time is exhausting, they often talk over each other, or choose different things (one wants to leave now, the other wants to leave in 10 minutes for example). She is also more emotionally driven and not so much a rule-abider, so we get a lot more whining out of her. But, overall the technique is very sound and I recommend it to all parents. I’d like to get their newest (I think) book about “when you’re at a loss for words.” I think that would be helpful to read :)
    .-= Tessa´s last blog ..Quick checkup =-.

  29. Yes yes yes! My husband and I have used this trick with all of our kids and find that it balances giving them freedom to choose with our need to be ok with their choices. So smart.
    .-= Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists´s last blog ..An embarrassment of blogging riches: five of my favorite new blogs =-.

  30. Great article! I have two boys who are VERY independent, and it does make things less of a struggle when I give them ‘limited’ choices, lol. Unfortunately I inherited my Dad’s ‘My way or the highway’ philosophy a bit, so I often forget to give them those choices. But I’m definitely going to start focusing on doing it more and hopefully they’ll grow up nicely adjusted and independent! ;D

  31. Thanks for the post and the thoughts.
    Offering children choices can be powerful and should certainly be in our aresenal as parents. But I notice that sometimes offering choice becomes too prevalent in our culture (starting at the youngest ages), and frequent offering can cause children to believe that they have a right to weigh in on everything. In my experience with my strong-willed son… my continually offering him choices contributed to a budding entitlement mindset in him, and roused (more than average) rebellion in him whenever choices were not offered. I blogged about this at http://heartpondering.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/children-and-choices/
    I spent all day administering consequences and combatting a whiney and uncooperative spirit.

    Once I cut down significantly on the number of choices I offered him and began to underscore my role as an authority in his life (in a firm and loving way), we began making headway. I now utilize choice as a privilege to be earned – “now that you’ve shown me that you will do what I ask you to do pleasantly, you may choose x.” This has worked vey well for us and has helped him bring his rebellious spirit into better control. In my view: the older the child and the more s/he is demonstrating a capacity to pleasantly follow a parent’s direction when need be, the more choices s/he should be offered.
    .-= Susan @ Heart Pondering´s last blog ..Mothering well through changes =-.

  32. Your post actually spurred a parenting conversation between my husband and I just now…always a good thing:) Thanks for that!

    I listened to the Effective Families audio book for the Book Club assignment, so your idea of making “choice” deposits to the child(ren)’s emotional bank account was reinforced by that familiarity. In fact, you used that method in an example that suits my style and particular, current need (I have been in a battle of wills with my toddler of late) better than that book did. Thanks for that, too! :)
    .-= Pot Luck Mama´s last blog ..Gastrointestinal Health…because everybody poops… =-.

  33. I concur. Parenting with Love and Logic is wooooonderful.
    .-= Derrick´s last blog ..Dealing With Rejection =-.

  34. I love offering structured choices. I have also decided to choose my battles, and let my children control the little things that are meaningful to them, and don’t cause safety issues (or rudeness. lol) Great article!

  35. I have been using Love and Logic Parenting Techniques since 2006. Now I teach Love and Logic classes in the Phoenix area of Arizona. I absolutely love the techniques and get a kick out of seeing parents improve their relationship with kids by becoming Love and Logic parents.

  36. I LOVE Love and Logic! I am the mother of four and grandma to nine and have been using these tools and principles for over 15 years! Giving choices is one of the most effective skills of Love and Logic (as you have all attested to)! One of the ways I use choices with challenging or resistant kids is to offer two choices that I am ok with (red cup or blue cup) and quickly move to the next choice (I call it stacking) for example: (This would be a role play I would teach in my Love and Logic Classes)
    Parent: Do you want a red cup or a blue cup?
    Child: Um….I don’t know….
    Parent: Looks like red… Now, do you want milk or juice?
    This quick offering of a new choice helps keep the brain in the “thinking mode” and not “fighting mode” (using the pre-frontal cortex instead of brain stem).
    Child: Maybe milk….or
    Parent: Great…now do you want a straw or no straw?
    Child: Straw!
    Parent: So…sweetheart, are there any other choices you want to make about your drink? (with a smile and a laugh)
    Kids love to see that their parents are willing to set and enforce limits as long as they can do it in a loving, connect way!

  37. avatar
    Courtney Shaheen says:

    If you like LOVE AND LOGIC, check out LOVE AND LOGIC MAGIC FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD.

  38. Hi! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone 3gs!
    Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!
    Keep up the excellent work!

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  40. I love “Love and Logic” and was lucky enough to be introduced to it and start applying it when my first child was only 18 months old…yes, it even works then. At times I think I need a refresher course to get me back on track and keep my emotions calm and in control. It is tough being a parent. One thing that we have had a hard time with BECAUSE of Love and Logic is allowing them to make mistakes instead of always jumping in with a choice. Choices are great and avoid a lot of foreseen problems, but sometimes we need to sit back and just observe. Or let them whine and be tired without making them say “Please”. Or let them make a mess. These are just little things I’ve noticed in our house as I watch my sweet little ones. They need to explore, discover, and experience the world around them without someone predicting a problematic situation. I really appreciate all the examples of what to say in a given scenerio, that helps me out a lot. So thank you. Another great article explaining the long-term benefit of a consistent, loving relationship is: http://parentarizona.com/what-is-parental-debt/.

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