I did a little experiment tonight. After about half an hour of pure relaxation—casual dinner on the deck, listening to the kids giggling stories (these moments when I feel undeniably blessed!)—when it came to cleaning up and getting ready for bed, the kids became a little whiney and argumentative about a few small things I asked them to do—helping clear the table and put a couple of toys away before heading upstairs for books. And I realized, as I was thinking, “Oh, things felt really nice a few minutes ago. What am I forgetting here? How could I do this in a more effective way?” …that one of the Love & Logic principles that I sometimes forget and clearly need to practice is the “Giving Lots of Choices” principle.
The Power of Choices
When we give kids choices—no matter how insignificant they feel to us—they provide our little ones with a sense of self-agency, of control of their lives, and of self-efficacy.
So I took a moment to acknowledge that I had a choice in how I guide this exchange, ultimately setting us all up for either success or failure, and changed my approach, to see what the impact might be.
I thought up a choice for my kids, rehearsed it in my head a few times and reminded myself that over-talking my kids, arguing, and pressuring are always a recipe for failure (and a common mistake from the therapist Mom!). And I said, “Hey you guys, would you rather put away two of your toys or three?” That’s it—amidst whining, that was the one sentence I used—and I’ll add, calmly… with a smile on my face!
You might be thinking, well that’s a funny one, right? Clearly they don’t want to put their toys away so why would they choose more? Easy answer for any kid!
Oddly, something very different than what one might expect happened when they were offered this option. And I got a curious response. Lilly, who’s four, immediately yelled, “two!” And Nathaniel, my eight-year-old, gave it a little thought and said, “Three.” Then of course Lilly, who loves to be just like her big brother, changed her mind and said, “I’ll put three away too!” Then they immediately hustled off to complete their responsibilities—with a playful attitude to boot!
A Sense of Purpose
So what happened? What occurred in these little Body-Minds that motivated the choice for even more effort? Think about it this way: There’s a big difference between having the choice to be more or less productive and being told, simply, to be productive. One provides an internal sense of purpose. And kids, just like adults, thrive when they feel a sense of purpose! When we offer kids the option for making their own choices, we give them the opportunity to think (an activity many kids don’t practice near enough!) and learn about the natural consequences of their choices—an indelible learning opportunity!
Now I’d guess that if given similar choices as adults, representing our capability and desire levels, choice might not prove as much of an internal motivator for many. Why do you suppose this is?
I have a theory… it has to do with the amount and the types of choices we were given as children, and the impact on our developing brains and levels of motivation. If we weren’t given a lot of choice, we don’t correlate it with a sense of empowerment or self-agency. Simply put, we don’t generally relate choice to “the good feeling.” And that’s a sad truth! Because if we’re not owning our own choices, then who is?
Here’s a thought… if we want to increase our own sense of purpose, becoming ignited like a child in the midst of an exciting opportunity, we might need to develop a practice of “rewiring” our basic hardwired response to the idea of someone else simply telling us to FIND OUR PURPOSE, or to do any number of random tasks.
If we’re lacking internal motivation, at some point, we have an opportunity to shift the circumstances. However, just becoming aware of the desire to shift doesn’t necessarily create automatic change, right?
We need to start small.
Creating choice, and responding to choice via true, authentic, body responses and thought content—literally “sinking into” our truest wants; and practicing this in small ways over and over again is certainly one way to get familiar with how choice impacts our BodyMinds. And becoming intimate with our internal choices, desires, truths, is bound to have profound impacts in our relationships! Consider how much more enticing it is to share time with someone who exudes passion about what they’re up to, rather than the person who simply follows the herd.
“We are our choices.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre
Knowing what we want, and stepping fully into choosing can be the one thing that sets us apart from those who go through life with a victim mentality—the idea that their lives are being controlled by others and they’re being forced to come along for the ride.
I see brilliance in my kids, as I hope most parents see in their own kids. I know that for that brilliance to come alive and have an impact in the world, my kids have to have a sense that they’re the ones driving the boat of their unique paths. And I want to support that development!
Some of the important things to consider when I offer choices to my kids are also some of the basic Love & Logic principles:
- Give choices that fit into your core value system. Don’t offer a choice and then be upset about the option your kids chose!
- Offering choices when things are on track, prior to any power struggle, is going to provide the most effective, long-term benefits.
- Choices are CHOICES. Not THREATS. Be careful not to threaten under the guise of choice! For example, “You can either clean your room or spend the rest of the day in it!” Is not an effective choice. “Would you rather clean your room or pay your sister to do it?” Is.
The more effective choices, and the more opportunities we provide our children to learn from THEIR choices, the happier and more productive they will be. And in the process, we might learn how to navigate through our own abilities to step fully into what we want. What great modeling we can provide our kids when we do!
“There are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!”
~ Oscar Wilde
For the Love of Your Life!