Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Parenting with ‘Choices’ and Common Sense

Meet the Awesome Family. There's Mommy Awesome, Daddy Awesome and their delightful son JJ Awesome. A typical morning in their household goes down something like this...
Mommy Awesome: Morning, JJ.
JJ: Morning, mama.
Mommy Awesome: Did you have a good sleep?
JJ: Yes, Mommy.
Mommy Awesome: Come on, let's go have breakfast. What do you want today?
JJ: TOAST!
Mommy Awesome: Coming right up! (makes toast and little JJ scrambles into his booster seat) Do you want peanut butter or jam?
JJ: Jam! (Mommy Awesome obliges)
Mommy Awesome: Here you go, dear!
JJ: (seeing Daddy Awesome's peanut butter toast) I want peanut butter!
Mommy Awesome: But you said..
JJ: I WANT PEANUT BUTTER. I WANT PEANUT BUTTER!
Mommy feeling slightly-less Awesome: Ok! You can trade with Daddy. (switches plates)
JJ: WWWWWWWWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAA!!
Mommy perplexed Awesome: What? What's wrong?
JJ: I want it on the GREEN PLATE!!!

Fast-forward 10 minutes…
Mommy Awesome: Time to get dressed, JJ.
JJ: No. NO! I don't want to get dressed.
Mommy Awesome: Do you want Mommy to help you today?
JJ: No. I don't WANT to get dressed.
Mommy Awesome: How about you choose! Who do you want to help you get dressed today, mommy or daddy?
JJ: No, I don't want to.
Mommy Awesome: You can't go to daycare in your jammies! Come on, I'll help you pick your favorite shirt.
JJ: No, I want DADDY to do it.
Daddy Awesome: Ok, bud, let's go pick a shirt.
JJ: I want to stay in my jammies.
Daddy Awesome: You can pick your Lightning shirt or you Buzz shirt!
JJ: Yay! BUZZ! (5 minute search for Buzz shirt ends when JJ triumphantly pulls it out of the laundry complete with Sunday night's pizza sauce) BUZZ!!!
Daddy Awesome: Oh, buddy, that needs a wash. How about your Lightning shirt?
JJ: No! BUZZ!
Daddy Awesome: What about your Mickey hoodie from grandma? Do you want to wear that? You LOVE Mickey!
JJ: NO! BUZZZ! WWWAAAA!

Fast-forward half an hour similar through battles with footwear and carseats…JJ arrives, still in tears, in his jammies.


If you've been dabbling in the parenting of young children in the past 10 years or so, maybe you have encountered the Awesome family. You see, they and all their like-minded friends like to do the parenting thing ‘by the book.’ And not just any book—the newest and most revolutionary books from the best-educated and renowned parenting experts in the western world. The Awesome family vigilantly employs all the latest strategies and lives in perpetual fear of inflicting childhood trauma by allowing their child to play with plastic toys or by accidentally exposing them to phonics. And every Awesome family knows that the best way to secure their child’s future as a philanthropic astro-physicist requiring minimal psychological intervention is to give their child choices, lots of them! So the Awesome family never misses an opportunity to engage their child in that oh-so-crucial decision-making process. JJ’s little voice is heard on every aspect of the day, from which potty he chooses to pee on in the morning to positioning of his 10 stuffies in bed at night. This can be tedious and, at times, a little trying for Mommy and Daddy Awesome, but they are determined to stick with it. What Mommy and Daddy have forgotten, something that might make their lives infinitely less complicated, is a dusty little nugget of wisdom way at the back of their overflowing book shelves. They inherited it from Grandma Awesome and, though they never refer to it because they largely consider its philosophies to be passe, they have kept it for nostalgic reasons—It is called “The Book of Common Sense.” And this book has a few tidbits that Mommy and Daddy Awesome might find useful as they apply to ‘choices’ and parenting:

More is not necessarily better—When it comes to choices, more choices do not necessarily equal better choices. Think food buffet. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t say my most shining nutritional moments have occurred in a buffet-type situation. The same applies to JJ. Just because you have offered him 6 different snacks, say, it does not follow that his food choice will be any better than if you’d just given him an orange. Or from a slightly different angle, engaging in the decision-making process ad nauseum, at every possible juncture, does not necessarily equate to better decisions either. For example, I have been engaging the choice to eat or not to eat chocolate daily since I was 10, and to date there has been no improvement in result. Sometimes more is just more. And further, sometimes, more is just unnecessarily confusing. Does JJ really need to consult the entire collection of books to choose his bedtime story? Or can Mommy and Daddy cleverly pare it back for him a little?

Actions speak louder than words—With all best of intentions, the Awesome family desires that JJ move forward with a solid foundation of good decision-making skills. But what’s the most powerful way to teach your child anything? Example, of course. That is, a child can as easily learn the decision-making process by seeing mommy and daddy acting decisively. So Mommy and Daddy Awesome simply need to move through their day swiftly making decisions about everything from plate colors to clothing to food to entertainment, and JJ will eventually mimic this. Could it be that dabbling in half an (unpleasant) hour of choosing a shirt every morning is really just modelling to JJ that getting dressed takes a long time and involves a lot of upset and cajoling? Which leads me to…

Take cues from your child—If the choice to choose a breakfast item results in weeks of upset every morning for JJ…the Awesome family might take that as their cue that, for whatever reason, he is not ready to make that decision. Though it may not be clear why to an adult, making a choice can be heavy burden for a child, so why not spare them the hassle from time to time. If they were to put toast and apple on a generic white plate, what is the worst that can happen?
As an aside, once I ran into the Awesome family in the supermarket and had the good fortune of watching the following scene unfold--Mommy is pushing JJ in the shopping cart down Aisle 10. JJ sees a Kinder surprise, and demands to have it. When Mommy says “Not today, JJ,” he turns up the volume a little, “I want a Kinder surprise!” There is a bit of escalating back and forth before JJ totally loses it. Mommy Awesome slips into choice-offering mode and asks him if he wants a raspberry instead (yes, because they are made of fruit and have no surprises inside???). A goldfish cracker? Does he want to hold a balloon? Does he want to ride in the cart with his stuffie? Does he want to say Hi to this nosy Nora passing by? At this point, I just want to scream… STOP with all the choices! You may as well offer him a trip to Disneyland and a Ferrari for all the good it will do. What he wants is the blimmin’ Kinder surprise and, since he can’t have it, he wants the next best thing… And that is to exercise his god-given right to blow a shit-fit on the matter. Let him! Would you want someone up in your face when you were upset about something offering you a bunch of choices? ‘Oh, your cat died. Do you want a KitKat (sorry bad pun)? Do you want to want a latte or some biscotti? How about going to theater?’ Might you just want to scream, ‘Get out of my face! I just want to cry about my cat’?

With freedom comes responsibility—Or as this applies to the decision-making process, with decisions come responsibility for consequences. The Awesome family subscribes to the idea that involving JJ in the decision-making process is a way of empowering him. And that may be true enough. JJ does gain a certain feeling of control through, say, having the final say in whether or not they are going to have a playdate with cousin Simon Awesome today. The Book of Common Sense, though, would argue that since JJ, being 3 and half years old, doesn’t exactly understand the responsibility he holds to Cousin Simon (who is REALLY excited to see him) and his parents (who have cleared their morning and booked the bowling alley), JJ just isn’t quite ready to make this decision. Never mind that JJ’s parents KNOW that he will have a whale of a time if he just gets past having to turn off Teletubbies and get ready to go. Perhaps this an opportune time for Mommy and Daddy Awesome to model some decisiveness? And finally...

Let kids be kids--If you ask Mommy Awesome, what the best part about being a kid was back when Grandma Awesome was alive, do you know what she says? She says, “Oh, times were simpler then. We just played and we didn’t have to worry about anything and we didn’t have any responsibilities!” Ahem…Yea, you didn’t have to make decisions all the bloody time! People, namely your parents did that for you, so you could just be a kid and focus on the type of things that matter to kids like whose turn it was to be ‘it’ in hide and go seek or who got be ‘Slimer’ in today’s game of Ghostbusters. And, what’s more, they left you to figure this stuff out on your own! Great practice (the best!) for your lifelong future in choice-making! And lo and behold, Mommy Awesome, though not an astro-physicist, didn’t turn out to be a miserable failure by any measure!

Luckily for JJ, his parents’ hearts are in the right places, so he will grow up to be just fine, but maybe, just maybe, Mommy and Daddy Awesome could make this whole parenting thing a little easier on themselves.