Giving the Gift of Free Choice–Or At Least that Perception

Defiance lerked around every corner when my son was in what I called the terrible threes. (Which in my opinion are much worse that the so-called terrible twos.) Everything seemed to provoke a stand off.

Brushing teeth, getting into the car, getting dressed or asking to leave the sticks and rocks outdoors could all cause a fight.

I remember sharing with a co-worker of an above example of this. Her response was, “At least your son is still young enough where you can pick him up and bring him to the car.”

While I definitely used this advice more than once, it would never feel good, for me or my son. Say it was the car battle, we would both end up upset, bothered and irritated by the time the wheels were rolling. Not a way for anyone to go about their day.

Then I started deploying options. “Would you like to walk to the car or be carried to the car?” Simple, straight forward. We are going to get in the car. But he at least was able to feel some power or control in the situation being able to decide how he would get there.

Reading Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, I was reminded of this when they describe boundaries as giving others free choice. They say our real concern with others should not be, “are they doing what I would do or what I want them to do,” but rather, ” Are they really making a free choice?”

choices_which way to go
Giving my son the navigator seat while in a canoe. 

They go on to explain how if children are forced into a yes, then they can become externally compliant, which seems to conjure up an image of a robotic, cordial walking dead for me.

As a father with the goal to grows spiritually, I hope I can give my kids choices and ultimately empowerment. Let’s face it we all make choices everyday, but my goal is to give my kids the ability to make choices based on their internal desires, rather than external people, places and things.

Let’s face it, many choices need to be made for them to keep them safe. But there are ways we as parents can help give them the gift of choice. What to wear, healthy options to eat, how to get to the car, or how they want to spend playtime?

Keep it simple, especially for my one year old. “Would you like to get up or down?” Choices. Because someday the choices will be based on peer pressure and cliques, rather than what her mother or father advise.

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