I Value My Daughter’s Opinion, But She Doesn’t Always Get a Choice
By Yumna Siddiqui-Khan
Photo © Pinningnarwhals/Twenty20
Feb 5, 2019
Bedtime in our household is a generally dreaded part of the day. My five-year-old daughter has always felt about sleeping the way most people do about hair in their food, or construction next door at the crack of dawn.
Some days result in what we refer to as the "hole of the tumbler" argument.
This is when my daughter is unable to exert influence over something (like bedtime), so instead she'll fight a bloody battle over another much less significant situation.
In the given example above, when bedtime negotiation is not on the table, my daughter will lose tears over which hole of the tumbler her toothbrush can be placed in.
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My child is strong-minded, confident and unabashedly opinionated. These are all qualities I admire, respect and dread simultaneously. My husband and I learned early on that if we were to hang on to any aspirations of being in control, we needed to set boundaries on when and how she would be allowed to get her own way. As her logical thinking, debating skills and sentence structure have improved over time, we have repeatedly come back to some basics on autonomy and choice. Here's how we exercise authority and still teach the value of autonomy.
Present a choice of choices
To strike a balance between our child exerting influence and running the show, a good strategy is to give her a spectrum of choice, or at least a choice between two reasonable alternatives. This helps alleviate the frustration she feels over her powerlessness in a specific situation, and it allows her to slow down and evaluate her choices. Most importantly, it gets her to make a decision. For example, on a mutinous bedtime day, I’ll give my daughter a choice between brushing her teeth first or changing into her PJs first, or which books to read. It’s a small choice in the routine but it redirects the conversation and calms her down.
Communicate what is and isn’t a choice
My husband and I often use the phrase, “This isn’t a choice situation.” There are certain scenarios where our daughter has choice, like at a restaurant where she is allowed to choose what to order for herself. However, at home, what’s on the dinner table is not negotiable and she understands that.
What is essential for this strategy to work is consistency and that the boundaries and scenarios for choice are clear. For example, instead of letting our daughter pick breakfast one day but not another, a better alternative is to establish an understanding that on weekdays she eats what's given to her, but on weekends she can make her own decision.
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Choosing the hill you want to die on
Ever been in a headache-inducing debate with your offspring only to realize a few minutes into it that you aren’t sure why you are arguing about this but you are too committed to back off? Yup, happens to all of us. It’s difficult to make real-time decisions on which hill is worth dying on, especially when the stakes are high and when you have to reinforce your parental awesomeness. However, not all battles are worth fighting and if it’s an inconsequential, safe, non-precedent setting decision, we let our child have the win sometimes. Instead of arguments each morning over outfit selection, I let my daughter choose her clothes as long as they are clean and weather-appropriate.
Encourage safe and responsible decision-making
While I may want to keep my kid safe and prevent her from having M&Ms for every meal, allowing her to make decisions and exert control is also imperative to her growth and self-confidence, and to equip her with the necessary tools and thought processes required to make well-informed decisions. It is important for children to have opportunities to use their voice, to weigh the pros and cons of a choice and understand the impact of the decisions they make.
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Value their opinion where it matters
It can be a tough balance allowing a child to exercise their wild choices, without subduing their wild spirit. So we make sure to pay heed to our daughter's wishes so she feels like her opinion is valued — at least in areas where her thoughts and opinions matter, like what activities she'd like to participate in and who she likes spending time with.
Raising a child to make the right choices isn’t an easy feat and I suspect that the complexity and intensity of our arguments will only increase from the current “hole of the tumbler” variety, but I hope that our strategies will help our daughter become a strong, autonomous woman who has the voice and the wisdom to make the right decisions in life.
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