Thursday, July 10, 2008

Shared Control: The Art of Offering Choices Within Limits

At some level we are all aware that sharing control with children is essential. As I mentioned in my last post, kids get bossed around all day. Others decide what they can eat, what they should watch on television, who they can play with, etc. I'm not suggesting that this shouldn't be the case. The adult should be making a lot of these decisions. But think about this from your child's perspective for a minute. It would drive us nuts if our boss, for instance, had that much control over our lives.

So the idea of sharing control with kids is to do it both consciously and wisely. One of the most widely used and time tested ways to share control with kids is to offer choices within limits.

Many parents have heard that it is good to offer choices, and have tried it. There are lots of places to go wrong though. The one I see frequently go awry is offering a child two choices intending that he will pick one of them. So the first tip is to make sure to only offer choices where you'd be fine with the child going for either option. You know deep down that if you have one you really are wanting him to go with, he's going for the other. We forget this fact in the heat of the moment though.

Offer most choices when things are going smoothly. Sure choices can, and should be used to set limits as well. In fact, lots of choice both share control and set limits. But choices work best when they are mostly offered on things that really don't matter much to the adult. Jim Fay often quips that there are two places to share control: 1) where we don't really need it, and 2) where we never had it to begin with. I love the second of these two because there are often things that we waste all sorts of our energy trying to control when there is about as much chance of us pulling it off as the family dog does of finally catching his tail.

Now when you offer choices like these inevitably our cherubs will occasionally pick a third option that is not on the list. Sometimes when things aren't going smoothly in the home, kids will do this most of the time. This can drive a parent to the brink pretty quickly. "I'm trying to give him some choices, and he NEVER cooperates." See my next post on choices for how to handle this twist on shared control.

The photo above was taken by Alatriste of his nephew. You can see more of his creative, clever shots on Flickr.

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