Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tough Choices

Ryan and I had a bit of a disagreement the other afternoon that might help to illustrate how I use Positive Discipline techniques in combination with my principle of giving the kids as much choice and control over their own bodies as I possibly can.

As I mentioned in the potty training post, one of the lessons Brendan and I learned about Ryan is that he is very reluctant to take care of his bodily needs when his brain is engaged. The potty thing isn't so much of an issue anymore, outside of his tendency to drop trou and play "pee-pee light sabers" in the front yard with his next door friend--although I think they'll change it to "pee-pee Ghostbusters" after they've seen that movie: "Don't ever cross the streams!" Boys are interesting creatures.

But I digress.

But Ryan still neglects to eat, drink, or sleep when his brain is turned on and fully activated. A trait which, as a friend pointed out, comes directly straight from Brendan. See? Ryan's not All Me after all!

The other afternoon, we were all hanging outside in the front yard, and it was HOT--mid-80s, if you can believe. Ryan and Morgan had been playing outside with their friends for several hours, and he was sweaty and dirty. Good times. He complained to me about how hot he was as he was zooming past me for the hundredth time, so I said that it was probably time he took a drink of water to rehydrate and offered him my water bottle.

Immediately, "NO! I don't want to take a drink of water!"

Now, if he had just stopped with a run-of-the-mill objection, and if he hadn't looked soooooo very hot and thirsty and tired, I would not have pushed the issue. But upon observing him, I realized that it had probably been a very long time since he had had anything at all to drink. And knowing him, I realized that he might need my assistance in doing the right thing for himself.

Also, he stopped right in front of me and began barraging me with complaints and objections--because he knew what was coming! "I'm not going to drink water! You're not the boss of me! I'm in charge of my own body!" etc. etc. etc. He doth protest too much, methinks.

So I told him very calmly, "You've been outside playing for many hours in the hot sun. I can tell by the way you look and by the way you are acting that you need a drink. You need to stay hydrated when playing hard outside in the hot sun. This is something that must be done in order for you to be safe and healthy. So you have a choice--take a drink right now or go inside where it is cooler."

He: "I hate this choice! I don't wanna make this choice! Why do I always have the tough decisions?"

Me: "It seems to me like you're choosing to go inside since I haven't seen you take a drink yet. Can you go inside all by yourself, or do you need my help?"

He tried to stare me down (I think it's a Jedi thing) and I just looked back at him. Then he grabbed my water bottle, took a long drink, sat down on the grass, and began to cry.

He: "That was so mean! Why did you make me drink? I hate having all of these tough choices!"

Me: "I know you didn't want to stop and take a drink."

He: "Why do YOU always get to tell me what to do? I want to decide if I want a drink or not!"

Me: "I know you do. And usually, you ARE the one in charge of deciding when your body is thirsty. But sometimes I've noticed that when you're really busy, you don't like to stop and take care of your body--like when you don't want to eat something. I know that your body needs water when you're playing outside on a hot day--I have that information and experience and when I notice that you are not taking care of your body, then I will help you do that. It's actually my job to help you make good choices about taking care of yourself if I notice that you are not making good choices."

He had stopped crying enough to tell me: "Well, I want to decide!"

Me: "Yes, and you chose to take a drink because you didn't want to go inside. You made a good decision, since you wanted to stay outside and play some more."

He: "Well . . . I really don't like all of these tough choices I have to make ALL THE TIME."

Me: "Mmm-hhmmmm." (Thinking, well, one day you'll have a mortgage, kid!)

And then he ran off and played some more, and came and took water breaks of his own accord.

For Ryan, breaking him out of the not-good-for-him cycle really helps him get back on track, and then he really is generally amenable to making good choices.

But I also liked how I handled this issue from a PD perspective. I didn't get upset, I explained the reasoning, set the limit, and gave him a choice in what happened. I empathized with his feelings and allowed him to express them appropriately (I don't view his saying that he doesn't like something I'm doing as inappropriate--very much a different view from that of my own parents when I was a child).

I also reinforced my own principles--helping him understand the way in which I knew he was thirsty (pointing him to reality), explaining that my role as someone more experienced was to give him information he might not have, giving him as much freedom as I could before drawing the line, knowing that if I had to force him into the house that I would do it gently and calmly, and pointing out that the decision he made was a good one given his desire to continue to play outside.

I decided that this was a battle I'd be willing to "fight" because of his tendency to ignore his physical needs and because it was really pretty damn hot that day and he clearly needed a drink. This fell into the realm of personal safety--so I stepped in, in a kind and firm way, and ultimately he made a good choice.


Benpercent said...

He wasn't taking the water breaks to fuel up for Pee Pee Light Sabers, was he?

Rational Jenn said...

I think you've given me a strategy for the next time he won't drink!

Miranda Lake Barzey said...

This reminds me of a time when I was babystitting a 5 year old girl while her mother rode horses. She was upset because she wasn't allowed to ride the big horses and had to wait till she got home to ride the pony. This spurred a a crying tantrum which brought up other complaints about no getting what she wanted.

I suppose what struck me was that I had complained similarly (no tears or tantrums) the previous day about things not working out. I'm sure my own mother has listened to me complain about things she considers petty. Funny how are problems seem big no matter where we are in life.

Kelly Elmore said...

It's just hilarious to me how different kids are. I have no idea when Livy is eating, drinking, and sometimes sleeping. She has always monitored her own physical needs perfectly and is highly offended if anyone dares to comment on her personal business. She even monitors how much we have of her favorite things, even going as far as putting an S on the grocery list because she feels we are too low on her kind of soup. I got to the store later and had no idea what that S meant. When I asked her later, she said regally, "Mom, soup starts with S."

Anyway, it sounds like you handled that wonderfully.

Travis N said...

This reminds me of something I heard one of the teachers at my older kid's Montessori school say which really impressed me. Some other kid was refusing to comply with a request to use the potty or find some work to do (I can't remember exactly), so the teacher said "OK, then I'm going to have to help you make the right choice here" or something to that effect.

Rational Jenn said...

Funny how are problems seem big no matter where we are in life.I think this is a very astute observation, and one I try to keep in mind with the kids. Just because I personally don't see The Big Deal, I recognize that whatever they are upset about is, in fact, a Big Deal to them. Sometimes I'll attempt to point out the Not-the-end-of-the-world-ness aspect (the decision to do that is very contextual), but no matter what, I think they need to hear from me that I realize they are serious and that I respect that they have valid feelings about the things they think are serious. They need me to support them.

So even though I think Ryan was being absolutely irrational--which is an accurate assessment, I think!--I also recognized the fact that this is difficult for him and that he was unhappy about having to make this tough choice.

A sudden thought--I hope he'll express his frustration when he has a real tough choice to make, as he certainly will when he gets older.

Thanks for your comments!

Rational Jenn said...

Kelly--yes, our children certainly are different! I can't imagine you'd ever have a similar conversation with Livy. Remember the day they freaked about the straws? He, because I would NOT put the straw in the drink . . . and she, because you accidentally put the straw in her drink?

Travis--I use the "Do you need me to help you?" line all. the. time. I've even started with the baby: "Looks like you need my help to not push those buttons...." (the power button to the wireless router.) It helps the child understand: A.) that whatever the issue is not negotiable and B.) that Mommy or Daddy understands that complying with the limit might be difficult for them and C.) that Mommy and Daddy's job is to support and assist them, no matter what.

Rational Jenn said...

....I mean A.) that the issue is non-negotiable....

It's late and I really ought to go to bed!

Kelly Elmore said...

I do remember that! I can't wait to tell them that story when they are adults! And the brownie egg story.

Jenny said...

Loved the story - you handled that so well. Your posts have been such helps to me.

Rational Jenn said...

Thanks Jenny! Welcome, and thanks for stopping by!