Ground Rules for Control Pt. 2

defiance defiant parenting parenting myths parenting styles strong-willed kids warmth Dec 28, 2021
Ground Rules for Control Pt. 2

Now that you’ve pinned down your non-negotiable boundaries and made the decision to stick to them no matter what, let’s talk about the next 2 ground rules that focus on how we go about the negotiable ones. We also talk about this in more detail in our free parenting class.

Give lots of choices. Exhaust your kids with choices. This will help them with critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving. It will also help power-hungry kids feel like they have a lot of healthy control, which will lead to fewer power struggles.

Here’s an example of how I give lots of choices to my youngest first thing: 

“Do you want to get dressed for school now or after breakfast?”

“Do you want the cold cereal or the hot cereal?” 

“Do you want the blue bowl or the red bowl?”

“Do you want to sit on this stool or that stool?” 

“Do you want me to brush your hair or do you want to brush your hair?” 

“Do you want to ride on your scooter or ride on your bike?” 

You can see that I’m giving lots of choices. The options may differ depending on your child’s age but what’s important is that you allow them to exercise the reasoning part of their brain by constantly choosing for themselves. 

I remember when we first learned this and my husband and I started to apply this to our child with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). My husband was in charge that first morning. He started giving my daughter so many choices over things that were appropriate for her to have choices over. After about 14 choices, she just said, “I don’t know. You just decide, dad.” 

Interesting, right? All we did was exhaust her with choices. We had never heard her ask us to make a choice for her until that day. 

It’s also important that we let them know that they are choosing when we’re giving them choices--that this is an opportunity for them to be the boss. 

So we’ll say any along the lines of: 

“There’s this choice or this choice. You decide.”

“You choose.” 

“It’s your decision.” 

Here are some more examples:

  1. When your kid comes to you with a problem. You can say, 

“Hey, that seems like a challenge. What are some things you can do? Let me know if you want some ideas.”

Notice that we’re not jumping in with advice or invalidation. We aren’t telling them that they should do this or that or that they should feel this or that. Instead, we’re turning that control over to them and giving them the opportunity to think. And then we can be there as a resource if they want some ideas.

The more we honor our child’s boundaries--when we don’t jump in and give unsolicited advice, the more they are likely to ask for our advice because they know that we are not trying to control them and that their boundaries are honored.

  1. Would you like to do ____ or ____? You choose.

  2. “I’m going to do ____. I wonder what you will choose to do?” (non-judgmentally)

I did this when my daughter didn’t want to wear her boots during the winter. I used to tell her to put on her coat and boots, so she’d wear flip flops and shorts just to prove she was in control.

I realized that constantly telling her to put on her coat and boots felt as if I was tugging her rope.

I decided to try this: 

“I’m going to wear my boots and coat in the snow, I wonder what you’re going to do?”

After a number of cold winter days, she started putting on her coat and boots herself. Eventually, she felt that she doesn’t have to prove that she was in control because I was not tugging on her rope. Then she started to think for herself, “Do I want to be cold or do I not?”

Now, it’s important that we don’t rescue them from the consequences of their choices and that we don’t rub it in. When they face their consequences, it’s our job to be there to validate their experience and give them the warmth they need without rescuing them from the natural outcomes.

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