For Michelle and I, we’ve read a whole bunch of books that all point to the same thing – if you want your child to have a high self-esteem and to feel like they have control of the decision-making process, you need to give them options as often as possible. Instead of forcing them to put on their jacket to get out the door, you ask whether they want to put it on themselves, or would like some help.
Overall, giving choices seems to be working out as a great way to get Celia to do just about anything. But figuring out which options to give can sometimes be a challenge. Last night I wanted our reluctant daughter to get into the bath. Michelle tried her hand at giving Celia options, “Do you want to get in the bath now? Or later?”
“No,” I turned to Michelle. “That’s not the right option.” I turned back to Celia. “Do you want me to put you in the bath, or are you going to get in yourself?”
Celia looked at me for a moment, then said, “I’m going to get in myself.”
“Good,” I replied, and held her hand as she climbed into the bath.
It’s not that Michelle’s options weren’t right, but it was already late, and I needed to get Celia to bed as soon as possible, so to me, waiting any longer wasn’t an option. The nice thing is, with kids, there’s almost always a second chance. And let’s face it, we’re making this up on the fly, so we’re going to get it wrong at times. The important thing is to learn what works to make it easier the next time around.
I’ve learned a few tricks that I sometimes use when I need to. They’re like my little arsenal that I pull out in emergencies. For example, if there’s one option I’d really prefer over the other, I say it second, because she usually chooses the second one. I noticed this when giving Celia options for neutral things.
“Celia,” I asked, “Would you like to play inside or outside?”
“Outside!” Celia said happily.
“Are you sure? Would you like to play outside, or inside?”
“Inside!” Celia said with confidence.
Occasionally, this has resulted in some funny little dialogues. Yesterday at the end of the day I picked up Celia and asked, “What did you do today?”
“I made a reindeer!” Celia exclaimed, pointing at the piece of purple construction paper with two brown hand prints and a red puff ball in the middle.
I had to admit, it was a cute reindeer. I even considered framing it.
“Was that fun, or what!?” I said, admiring her work.
“What, Daddy. What.”
I laughed and gave her a kiss. It’s always the second thing.
Another trick is to “play dumb” so that she feels empowered. One day she didn’t want to wear her winter boots. So, I kicked them into the corner, just out of sight.
“Where are your purple boots, Celia? I can’t find them anywhere!”
Celia perked up and looked around. Then, she started walking into the front hallway. “Here they are!” Celia dashed over to the boots in the corner and picked them up triumphantly.
“Fantastic! Good looking, Celia! Alright, now bring them over here so I can help put them on your feet.”
These tricks are useful, but sometimes, I admit I give up and simply force her to do things. Like this morning. I was changing little Joshua’s diaper and I heard the clatter of her oatmeal bowl flying onto the floor from the other room.
I called out, “Celia. I didn’t like hearing that sound. I have a feeling you’re going to have a big mess to clean up.”
Sure enough, when I came back into the room, oatmeal was everywhere. Celia resisted, but I leaned in and half-forced, half-helped her pick up the dirty bowl and wipe up all the mushy banana and oatmeal off the floor.
At first she was reluctant, but I praised her every step, “You’re doing great, Celia. Nice job, cleaning up that banana.”
In the end, the clean-up was a success, and Celia happily trotted off to the next activity. I marveled – I actually was able to get a two-year-old to clean up her mess! And I didn’t give her an option!
I think that’s what the option thing is all about – you’re building up a reservoir of self-esteem so that they feel like they’re in control and respected. When you have to tap into that reservoir and force them to do something, they’re less resistant than if they were constantly feeling forced.
At this point, even if I did have to half-bully her into it, I’m sure she knows it was the natural consequence of her own actions. The real challenge is remembering to deal with her nicely.
Last night Michelle was in the bathroom and called to me, “Come over here and look at this!”
She was standing in front of the mirror.
“Now imagine this,” she said. “If you’re a two-year-old girl waking up in the middle of the night crying, what kind of face would you want to see?”
I looked at Michelle’s face. She made a grimace, which is what I’m sure I usually look like at 3am when my daughter is crying unnecessarily. Then she smiled and her eyes sparkled as she said brightly, “Oh, Sweetie. Are you okay? I’m here for you.”
I tried smiling and mimicking her but it turned into a crazy face pretty quickly. Michelle laughed. Definitely not the kind of face you’d want to see when you wake up in the middle of the night. But I think it was a good exercise, anyway. A reminder, if you will.
Sure, we’re going to be giving out some tough medicine here and there, and there will be times when we need to deal with the kids when nobody is at their best. But even then, we could at least try to be nice about it. Even doling out disciplines can be more bearable if it’s done with a smile and a chipper attitude.
With these methods, I’m pretty confident I could get Celia to do just about anything. Except maybe change her brother’s diaper. Not that she wouldn’t try. Actually, come to think of it, I'll bet she’d love to try.
I’d better not give her any ideas.
I’d better not give her any ideas.