You Have One Choice

Flora and I have been butting heads lately, and last night, we really went at it. I finally got fed up and gave her exactly what she wanted. And then she didn’t want it any more!

I had to work late last night, so my in-laws picked up the kids and gave them dinner. When I got home at 6 p.m., they fed me, too — thanks, in-laws! The kids got to watch a movie and got special night time treats (cupcake ice cream!).

Every request I made about … well, anything, was met with opposition. A stern no from Flora, crossed arms, pouty lips, stomping feet.

“Flora, clear the table.”
“NO.” *crossed arms*

“Flora, please pick up those books.”
“I’m not going to!”

“Flora, it’s time to go. Get your shoes on.”
“NO!” *stomp*

She did eventually do what I told her to, but it was ridiculous, the time it took for her to comply.

When we got home, I bathed Michael, and gave him a bottle. While I was giving him his bottle, I asked the girls to put their clean clothes away.

They know how to do this. They know it is expected of them. They know where their clothes go.

Unfortunately, because I was not right on top of them, haranguing them to “put the clothes away, already!” — I swear, chores that should take 10 to 15 minutes take an hour and a half, and I know they are only 6 and 4, but when do they just do a task from start to finish! — the clothes, they did not get put away. As a matter of fact, while I was down on the couch soothing Michael to sleep, several sobs and screams broke out in between the bouts of playing.

Finally, Michael was close enough to sleep to put in his crib (where he cried half-heartedly for about five minutes before he fell asleep), and it was time to bathe the girls. And this is pretty much where the yelling began.

“You girls didn’t put the clothes away.” *heavy sigh* “Well, it’s time for bath and bed.”
“Kate goes first.”
“No, Flora, tonight you go first.”
“No. I’m not going to”
“You will do what I say. Get in the bathroom.”
More pouting and stomping.
“Flora, get in the tub.”
“I’m tiiiiiired. It’s too late for bath time.”
Me, finally losing my shit: “FINE, GO TO BED.”
“I’ll take a bath! I’ll take a bath!” *broken hearted sobbing*

Flora did not get a bath. She tried over and over again to explain that she would take a bath “now”, and I explained over and over again that she would do WHAT I say to do, WHEN I say to do it, without the pouting, whining, and saying No.

Many books and magazine articles will advise, when you are faced with a truculent toddler who doesn’t want to to X, Y, or Z, to give said toddler choices. “Ask her if she wants her blue shoes or her red rain boots,” they will brightly chirp. “See if he would like applesauce or baby carrots!”

I’m calling bullshit. Here’s advice from the trenches: Do not give your toddler choices. The “book” advice is meant to give toddlers a “sense of control”.

Pro tip: Toddlers don’t have control — parents have control.

I started giving Flora choices as soon as she was able to point to tell me what she wanted. This clearly was a mistake. Because now I don’t seem to have control. And I cannot stand it. It makes nearly every interaction with Flora an exercise in negotiation, bribes, or threats.

Kate is going to get fewer choices from now on, and poor, poor Michael? Will get none.

What childhood “helpful advice” do you wish you had never taken? And do you think I’m doing the right thing, or should I try a different tact? I’m so tired of the opposition to Every.Little.Thing.

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17 thoughts on “You Have One Choice

  1. Oh I feel you. It seems like everything lately with Maggie is a fight. Some days are good, but some days… I need a DRINK.

    I think choices are okay in some things (I’ll give her options for what to wear, for example, because I think the bajillion options in her closet are overwhelming for her and I think she actually panics at the whole situation!) but I agree- choices in everything? Not a good idea. And I’ll admit- we have given ground on too many things just because OMG I’M SO TIRED OF ARGUING! and now we’re so far down the road that it’s tough to backtrack.

    Good luck, mama. It’s not easy, this parenting small children thing!!

    • As far as clothes: I put out outfits for the girls (and Michael, obviously) each day. Most of the time, that’s what they put on. Every now and again, they go into their drawers — where the clean clothes live, how about that! — and pick out something else. That fine, and we seldom fight about clothes.

      And yes, as far as giving ground: I am over it. Almost every sentence Flora says when I tell her to do something lately starts with “No” or “but” or “how about.” OVER IT.

      Good luck to you, too. The only upside last night was Kate was so traumatized by my yelling that she was perfectly compliant!

    • Yes, by the end of the day, we both NEED. A. DRINK. Unfortunately for Rachel, she is currently pregnant, so depending on how breastfeeding goes, she may have another year and a half before it is a simple thing to indulge…

      And then we’re just both so beat by the time we get the kids to bed that the evenings after their bedtime are not enjoyable at all – we just want to go to bed, too. *Sigh*

    • I did read that article. I think the parents or the kids or whatever are a little more of the extreme helicopter parent/child variety. In that the parents didn’t want their children to fail or get hurt or feel sad. I think falling, failure, getting hurt (physically and otherwise), and feeling sad or frustrated are very much a part of growing up/life. Children have to learn how to deal with it, while also knowing you (parents) are there for them. But, yes, this point about “choices” and giving toddlers measure of “control”. No. Full stop. It’s got to end, and the next time I read that advice in a parenting magazine, I’m writing a letter.

  2. Genna was so fresh, uncooperative and defiant to me a couple of weeks ago, that after I calmed down, I removed everything out of her room (except her bed). She is now in the process of earning everything back. I had given her plenty of warnings that I would do it, so it wasn’t a suprise. She completely lost her mind, but has been working on a better attitude and being obedient to earn the things most important to her back. There have been a couple of days where she forgot to ask for something back. Methinks she had too much stuff anyway and some of the stuff will leave the house.

    I did the same thing to Ella when she was three. It rocked her world. And, she remembers that it happened. Even she had warned Genna…

    • This sounds like the way to go. Clearly, it sticks in their memory (based on Ella). Perhaps we should go this route, too.

      One thing that we stick to is our guns. When we threaten something, we follow through if it is needed. No empty threats here. That helps, but clearly, not enough for a(n almost) five year old!

    • We are actually seriously considering this. The problem becomes where do we put what that they won’t just defy us (MORE) and go get what they want. But it’s definitely on the list of consequences.

      • Do you mean that you are worried they will go in to whatever room the stuff is stored in and take it back? I told Genna that if she dared to take anything out of the spare bedroom, I would take it from her and throw it away forever. She didn’t want to risk losing her lovie forever. It scared the crap out of her, which is what I wanted.

        If you do it, prepare for a meltodwn of epic proportions. The child will despair. Don’t back down. Close the bedroom door and let them lose their shit. Genna screamed for two hours. I put on my iPod and worked out. After she started to calm down, I went in and we talked about why she caused this problem and how she could solve the problem. When she tried to sassgback, I told her that she wouldn’t earn her things back until the following day if she was going to sass me at that moment.

        We are still a work in progress. I have a friend who started to use Lavender essesntial oils on her kids and herself last week and she remarked that she is much calmer and her kids are as well, and aren’t fighting and sassing. I am usually too lazy and dubious, but I bought some today…

  3. AMEN! Abby has been a pain lately, fighting us on everything. Last night, she didn’t want what we had for dinner, which was multiple nights in a row, so Rachel told her that she didn’t have to eat it. No other conditions, just that she didn’t have to eat it. Abby wasn’t listening to us at all – she started whining and crying that “I. don’t. WANT. it!!!!” – I had to yell at her, loudly and meanly to get her to just SHUT. UP. for a second and ask her to listen to her mommy. Rachel calmly repeated herself, and I asked Abby to repeat what Rachel said. She didn’t get it right even then, so we both repeated that she didn’t have to eat it.

    She is just so full of fighting us on everything right now, no matter what it is, no matter what she really wants, and clearly, she isn’t even listening to the words we calmly speak, let alone those we need to raise our voices to get her to hear.

    SO. FRUSTRATING lately.

    Same thing for bedtime routine. What does it take you to pee, change clothes, brush teeth? Five minutes? I expect about 15 for a nearly five year-old. There are nights that the bedtime routine takes an hour. There are nights that we cajole her the entire time, trying to get her to speed up. With the thought that the cajoling might be slowing her down, we tried leaving her alone after the initial “bedtime!” – same thing. She’s just going to do what she wants to do.

    I keep trying to give her simple choices, and mostly, it seems to help…a little. But the past month or three, she has just decided to be stubbornly difficult no matter what.

    Ugh. Hoping it gets better for you, and for all of us, soon.

  4. Remember that night we got together for drinks at Ibiza a couple of months ago? I was complaining to Jen about this exact. same. thing. on the drive there. Liam had been giving us these same problems and I was ready to blow my top. (In fact, I had on a couple of occasions.) I couldn’t make a simple request without some kind of friction. It was AWFUL. It has gotten somewhat better but he still does it every now and then. As frustrating as it is, it’s really normal.

    I agree that if you need to, remove everything from her room and make her earn it back. We took away some of Liam’s more beloved items and that helped him work on a better attitude.

  5. I don’t have kids-but you know I work with preschoolers with delays…
    If I could change 1 thing about giving children choices (but I think you are already doing this based on your transcribing of events) :
    Don’t ask a yes/no question when there isn’t a choice. It gives the child the opportunity to choose to say no–and then he/she gets mad because the parent/teacher is asking them-but not abiding by their choice. There are dozens of situations daily where there isn’t a choice. You have to go to daycare. You have to go to bed. You must wear clothes outside, etc.
    Most people (including the pro’s) use a question without thinking about it. Listen to people around you and you will see what I mean.
    For example, Just today the teacher in one of the classes said to child who was playing with cars:
    “It’s circle time, do you want to go to circle?”
    The child said No! (he was very happy with his cars). The teacher said “let’s clean up” and the little boy just melted down. He chose to play with cars and now he can’t? I would melt down, too.

    As for your dilemma,
    I will let people with experience with kids answer…

    • Yes, this is a habit I absolutely had to break myself of early on. If you ask a kid if she wants to take a bath/clean up/eat peas/go to bed, of course she is going to say no. My mom does it with my kids now (asks questions, that is) and it cracks me up, especially when they say no. She never asked ME questions growing up!

      For me it was like they talk about it in the books. “Do you want a blue shirt or red shirt? Do you want grilled cheese or PB&J?” I’m going to stop. I have to. It’s just not working well for us.

  6. Just to elaborate on what Chicory said about the questions, another simple thing like that involves tacking “OK?” onto the end of what could be a simple request.

    “We’re going to the store, OK?”
    “Buckle your seat belt, OK?”

    The “OK” implies there’s a choice when there really isn’t. Just leads to the same kind of conflict.

    And even though it’s been established that I am “Another Childless Douche,” this is really just a matter of sentence structure, on which I do feel qualified to ccomment.

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