Imagine a day in which you had no say in what you did. Someone else decided when you got out of bed, what clothes you would wear, and what you ate for breakfast. Someone else dictated when you played, what you played with, and for how long. Someone else chose where you went that day, when you had your meals, and when you slept. Someone else instructed you on how to behave, what things you could and could not touch, and what you watched on TV.
Now imagine how you’d feel at the end of such a day. After being bossed around and having all your decisions made for you, wouldn’t you want to flex your muscles and have a say?
At my children’s preschool, we talk a lot about how important it is to allow children to make choices. It’s important for many reasons. First of all, a child can’t learn how to make decisions on their own if they’ve never been allowed to do it before. Secondly, presenting children with choices and encouraging them to weigh their options is a powerful tool when it comes to self discipline, self esteem, and restraint, all of which are valuable lessons when it comes to such issues as drugs, alcohol and sex. In other words, letting your toddler choose her own clothes can help equip her to make the right choices when peer pressure kicks in years later.
In my own household, offering choices has not only helped keep the peace, but it has also helped me to feel less like an autocrat, constantly barking orders and being negative. Some rules are not open to interpretation, but I’ve found that my children are more likely to cooperate if they feel they have some say in the process. It’s much more pleasant to say, “It’s time to put your shoes on, would you like to wear the pink pair or the blue pair?” instead of, “We’re leaving. Put your shoes on.”
Nearly a year ago, I wrote about my daughter’s comfort object, her pacifier, and asked for suggestions on gently weaning her from it. In the end, I decided I didn’t want to take it away from her before she had her eye surgery and my instinct was right. The recovery from anesthesia was rough and having the pacifier available helped immensely.
As she approached three years old, we started to suggest that she not only stop using the pacifier, but that it was also time to start thinking about using the toilet. She was very resistant. She’s an independent child and likes things to be on her terms. Having seen friends try to force toilet learning and ending up frustrated, angry or desperate, I took my cues from my child and backed off. Instead, we gave her a deadline and told her that she didn’t need to use the potty if she didn’t want to, but when she turned three, the diapers needed to go. She was so accepting of the idea, we started adding on other items we wanted to be rid of, the pacifier and the sippy cup.
Knowing that she didn’t have to do all those things NOW seemed to go over really well with her, and having a deadline gave her some time to get used to the idea. If you asked her, “Maureen, what happens when you are three?” she would respond, “No diapers. No pacifiers. No sippy cups. I’ll be a BIG girl!” Not only that, but she met her deadline early. All of a sudden, one day she decided she was done with diapers. (She still wears one at night but she’s completely independent in the bathroom during the day and very reliable.) The sippy cups went too. It’s such a pleasure to no longer have to stick my hand into the sink drain to retrieve a valve. The pacifiers went into a drawer, just in case she changed her mind.
Her birthday was two months ago, and the transition from diapers to toilet and pacifier to none has continued to be smooth. And while it’s true that she used a paci longer than pediatricians recommend and she potty trained a little later than it’s possible to force it, I felt like both transitions were smooth and peaceful and gentle. Even better, because I put her in charge of deciding when she was ready, I feel like the lessons she learned from those decisions will have a greater impact than if I had been the one to issue an ultimatum about the diapers or pacifiers.
As she grows and matures and her thought processes become more complex, I can almost hear the wheels turning in her head as she considers her options, and it’s most obvious when it comes to interacting with her older brother.
Every day, we have plenty of opportunities to allow our children to make choices, everything from what pajamas they wear to what they eat for lunch to what bedtime book they read. I hope that by allowing my children to make seemingly unimportant decisions like these, that they will go off to school with a sense of self control that will serve them well as students and as members of society.
Today, while cleaning out a drawer, I found the forgotten pacifiers. This time, I relocated them to where they belong–the trash can.