Today my guest blogger is my oldest daughter, Stephanie. She taught as a missionary school teacher for three years and now teaches in a public school system. She has exclusively worked with children since she was 12, and has wisdom beyond her years. What we learned we practiced on her first.
Many times as parents, or in my case as a teacher, we become frustrated with our children because of their choice to disobey. We expend so much time and energy running around trying to make them follow our directions. As a result we’re worn out, grumpy, and just plain sick of them.
While I don’t have kids at home, I have 25+ first graders every day. In my case, I’m not only trying to manage their behavior, I’m also getting them to finish the year with all the knowledge necessary to carry them into the next grade. It’s enough to drive me crazy!
My mom asked me to share one of the concepts I teach my students each year and the key to my sanity. One word: Choices.
As I said earlier, many times in a day we have the opportunity to become frustrated with our children’s’ choices to disobey. But that’s exactly what it is – their choice. When we run around trying to exert external control over their choices (see my brother’s post on Internal vs. External Control) no wonder we’re exhausted and frustrated!
Teaching about Choices
I talk to my students about choices. They have the power to choose. They have the ability to use SELF control. The more they are expected to use it the more it will develop.
The first step is to explain to the child the difference between self control and mom control.
“You see, when you use self control you are telling your body what to do and making it listen to you. When you do that you get all kinds of privileges because Mom can trust you to make the right choices all by yourself. But if you don’t choose to make the right choices on your own then you are choosing mom control.”
“You are saying to me, ‘Mom I can’t make my body listen to me by myself, I need your help.’ Mom control is not fun because I’m not going to follow you around to make your body do the right thing. When you choose mom control you are choosing consequences. You are choosing to lose the privileges that you earn by being responsible.”
This becomes clear in their mind and real to them. My students can preach it right back to me because it is constantly enforced. When they break a rule or do something that isn’t acceptable, I don’t get angry; there is no scene, no reason to take it on myself. It was their choice and I put the responsibility right back on them.
Oops! Wrong Choice
“Oh no! That was a wrong choice you made wasn’t it? You know what happens when you make wrong choices… You get consequences every time. I’m so sorry that you made that choice. I’ll bet next time you’re going to make the right one.”
No drama… You don’t have to get frazzled and upset. It wasn’t your choice. It was their choice.
This way of thinking is so liberating, not just for us but from them as well. They begin to feel empowered.
“It’s not because mom is mad. It’s because you made a wrong choice. That means next time you have the power to change your outcome.”
I teach them that they choose what kind of day they have, what kind of privileges they are trusted with, and what kind of mom they want me to be. My students often hear me ask them, “Do you want a fun teacher or a strict teacher today? The choice is yours.”
Obviously they still get emotional and angry when they are receiving their consequence. But, I use this as another opportunity to reinforce the power of their choice.
“I can see you are so upset right now. Are, you upset with me or with your choices?”
9.9 times out of 10 the answer, through tears, is, “My Choices!” But even when the answer is, “YOU!” It’s the perfect opportunity to calmly redirect their attention back to their ability to choose.
“I didn’t make the choice to disobey. You made that choice and I feel so sad for you. I’m sure next time you’re going to remember this and choose differently.”
Other times I’ve been feeling frustrated and I’ve said out loud to them, “I am very upset right now and I want to yell, but I am going to choose to walk away and calm down before I talk to you.”
As you model this dialogue for them they begin to identify the power they have over their bodies to choose self control.
We are all making choices every day, all day long. No matter what others do, we all have to choose how we will respond. No one else is responsible for our actions. In the end, we are all accountable for what we do.
Imagine the kind of person your child will grow up to be if they learn to be responsible for their own choices now.