We went away to the Cederberg mountains for a little break this past weekend. I’d been amping Leo up for days leading up to it. “Baby guess what, this weekend we’re going to the mountains for Leo’s holiday!” Big smiles all round! But when we arrived it was a different story. It was almost dark, it was freezing cold, the last hour had been spent traveling down a super bumpy dirt road, Leo was far from amped. I led him into the house and he looked very unimpressed with his little holiday home.
They’re tiny little cottages, with everything you NEED, and that’s it. No couch, no tv, no lounge. All the things Leo loves! Oh shiiiaaat! I had a brief moment of anxiety when I saw the look on Leo’s face. I took him to check out our bedroom and he looked up at the roof to see a big bright light with dead moths gathered in the bottom of it… “Mommy, Leo don’t like dis holiday home! Let’s go home!!!!!” And with that he burst into tears! Great start…
The next morning we woke up to a beautiful crisp morning and I opened up the door to reveal a gorgeous green field out in front of us with a jungle gym and big slide and swings. Uncle Niel and Dad were taking a walk to the park to have their morning coffee and they called to little Leo “Come hang with the boys Leo, let’s go to the park!” He stared out at the huge big space outside that he’d never seen before, had a quick look at the swings and decided that this was BS and he still wanted to go home. “Mommy home!” he said again. “It’s okay guys, you go ahead, he just needs some time to settle in here.” Uncle Niel was confused. He looked at me and said “I don’t remember having a choice when I was his age, I just had to do what I was told!”
Yip, the good old days! When kids were meant to be seen and not heard! This whole experience got me thinking about the choices we give to our little humans and how parenting seems to have changed quite a bit from when we were all kids.
I don’t like to use labels because I feel like it puts me in a box, and I don’t like to be put in a box, BUT I tend to follow the path of ‘gentle parenting’ as far as my ‘parenting style’ is concerned. This brings with it MANY funny looks, especially when out in public, but mostly for the silliest of reasons.
For example, I give Leo a choice of which kids meal he’d like when at a restaurant. I often do this when the waiter is at the table because then Leo can see that the waiter is waiting for him to make a decision, so he then makes his choice. If he CHOOSES something, he tends to eat it. However, if I order for him and it arrives, then he’ll look at it and ask for something else. Typical. It’s the same at home when we do breakfast. “Leo would you like a banana for breakfast?” “Nooo! DISGUSTING!!” vs “Leo what do you want for breakfast? A banana or avo on toast?” “Banana mommy!” Psychology 101.
Friends of mine often seem to think this is ludicrous. “Why don’t you just order for him, he’s 2, he doesn’t know what he wants!” Well… I beg to differ, because I see the results. I feel like when I give him a choice, I’m helping him to be decisive, confident and assertive, because he actually gets to make a choice, he gets to speak and he gets to be heard. What he says matters and we respect that. And in turn we expect the same behaviour from him. Of course we don’t always get that same behaviour in return, because, well yes, he is 2. Sometimes I get a piece of lego thrown at my head. And that makes mommy very angry. But what we do try to do is model the behaviour we’d like back and I find that doing that with choices every time, really seems to help. Even more so when he’s mad.
For example, he’s just thrown the piece of lego at my head, because he can’t get the one piece of lego to stick to the other piece of lego, so clearly it’s my fault because I’m in the room with him. Smash! Into my head. “F**k dude, what the hell!” I blurt out… I can’t help it, it’s just natural for me to swear in these situations. “Aaaaaaaaaah!” he screams at the top of his lungs and then proceeds to kick the lego castle over all across the lounge floor. So in this moment I now have a choice too.
Choice A: (often the taken choice)
“That’s it, I’m so over this, what is wrong with you, why do you have to be so destructive and break everything! Clean this up now or we aren’t going to the beach later, I’ve had a enough of this nonsense!” Child proceeds to fall over onto the fall kicking and screaming. I get even angrier. “Are you deaf, listen to me!” Mom proceeds to drag child by arm across the floor and tries to force him to pick up lego. Doesn’t work. Mom walks to kitchen and pours a glass of wine and ignores child for 5 full minutes while child continues to have a melt down. Glass of wine down, “Come here baby. Mommy’s sorry for shouting at you and dragging you across the room. It’s just that I don’t like it when you throw things at my head, it really hurts me and it makes me angry. Do you understand? Please don’t do that again okay?” “Yes Mommy.” …. I totally believe him in that moment but it’s never sincere.
Choice B: (when I manage to make this choice, the results are always AMAZE!)
Please note this situation still starts with me yelling out “F**k dude, what the hell!” and then him kicking over the lego castle, however I now make my choice…
“I can see that this lego is making you really angry my boy!” VALIDATE his feeling! I get up off the couch and go to give him a hug while he’s letting out his big scream of frustration. “Are you angry my boy?” “Yes mommy!” he cries through the tears. ENTER CHOICE!! “Should I help you fix the castle again or do you want to go water the garden (oh wait we live in Cape Town), or do you want to blow some bubbles outside?” Now I find at this point, he hears I’ve asked a question and then stops to think about it – I’m telling you this always works! It gets him out of his crazy irrational toddler state and makes him think about making a choice. He then makes a choice, I respect that choice, he feels heard, he stops crying and we get on with the day.
BUT then we obviously have to still deal with the fact that he through a piece of lego at my head and that’s not acceptable. So once he is calm and ready to receive a mini conversation, then we have a little talk about that. I explain to him that when he’s angry there are other options besides throwing things that can land up hurting other people. I show him where my head is sore and he really shows empathy in his eyes for my pain. I don’t force him to say sorry, but often, at this point, he offers a sorry. It’s really pretty incredible to watch.
BUT… Choice B does not happen often, I’m still learning the ropes, much like every other Mom out there. And I’m no parenting guru to say the least, but when I get something to work and it allows for a more peaceful day, then I feel I should share that with other mamas!
One thing I know is that these little humans are a lot more intelligent than most adults believe them to be. If we just take the time to give them choices when they need them, it really makes parenting a much easier road. And this isn’t just for toddlers, you can start using choices from when they are really young. For teeny little babies you can do something as simple as shaking a rattle in your left hand and ringing a bell in the other hand, and then waiting to see which one baby is more interested in, which one do they gaze at more, or which one do they reach out for – that’s your baby making a choice!
If you can relate to this topic, I’d love to hear from you! Please share your comments below and let me know what you think – should we be giving our little humans choices and do you think it will help them in the long run?