“When you take a parent’s old discipline tools away, you need to replace them with new tools.”
I made that comment during a TV interview many years ago for a documentary about child abuse from a parent’s perspective. I never wanted to hit my children like my parents did but I had no other tools— at least until I came to Parents Anonymous. Before Parents Anonymous, when I started getting angry I would step outside until I cooled off; not the best way to teach children— and in winter was very cold!
One of the best tools I ever received was giving three-year-old Katie and seven-year-old Chelsey choices. At first I thought it seemed silly but as soon as I tried it out and saw how well it worked, I was hooked.
By the end of the day the hardest part was getting Chelsey and Katie to bed. Bath time took about half an hour, then pajamas and brushing teeth— then the usual delays and arguments would follow.
“My throat’s dry; can I get some water?” Chelsey would ask.
“Me too, me too!” Katie echoed.
To curb repeat requests we ‘gave’ Chelsey an extra half hour and put Katie to bed first. We also set a small plastic glass of water by the bed. Surprisingly, Katie would be asleep within fifteen minutes without her sister to talk to and the glass of water nearby.
When it came to Chelsey, I’d ask her if she wanted to go to bed in fifteen minutes or five. She knew a bargain and always chose the full fifteen minutes. When the fifteen minutes were up she would quietly go to bed without any argument.
Shopping for school clothes one year was tough. Chelsey and Katie, like many girls their age, were drawn to name brand clothing. I wasn’t too happy with their choices and began to question their values. Giving them a set amount for clothing was giving them the power to choose, within their budget. Shopping became a real-life activity: choosing, comparing, math and making choices. They could look really cool with a few name-brand items or they could look just fine with outfits for every day of the week. I was so pleased with their shopping decisions that I splurged and bought them name-brand backpacks.
Giving choices as often as possible, within our rules, gave them a measure of control and probably saved many arguments and debates over the years.
How about you? What kind of choices did you give your children?