During a recent early evening outing to play with the trains at Barnes & Noble, I happened upon a copy of Positive Discipline for Preschoolers: For Their Early Years — Raising Children who are Responsible, Respectful, and Resourceful. I was only able to skim the first few pages, but it was enough time to spot what has become the crowning jewel of my behavior modification toolbox (perhaps because it’s the only one that works): You Decide.
This idea of choices is not a new one. Misguided by my single-minded focus on fostering Coraline’s sense of self, I probably give her too many choices. Come to find out, this is actually totally counterproductive. Forgive my dog analogy here: Just like dogs, kids need to feel that their grown-up is in charge. This makes them feel safe. It is developmentally appropriate for them to test the boundaries, but they are able to do so only because they know that there is someone maintaining homeostasis in the universe. If you give a toddler too many choices, they (subconsciously) question your authority and feel overwhelmed, resulting in a meltdown or worse. But if you offer them two choices topped off with the catch phrase “you decide,” à la Positive Discipline, they get the best of both worlds — structure and power — while you still get to control the outcome and avert a stand-off.
I’ve been trying this all over the place with Coraline. “You can wear the blue shirt or the striped one, you decide.” “You can throw a fit on the floor or we can read a book, you decide.” “You can have peanut butter and jelly or soup, you decide.” It gets us somewhere, every single time.