My hubby and I were talking the other night about how easy it is for parents to focus on what they want their child to do, rather than acknowledging why they don’t want to do something in the first place. For example, if my son is playing with his cars and we ask him to come to the dinner table, he sometimes protests and doesn’t want to stop playing.
Being that we are parents who raise our son according to play therapy principles, we typically give him a choice in those moments (Read more about Choice Giving here). This last week, my husband said, “You can choose to give me the cars and I will put them away, or you can choose to put them away. Which do you choose?” While that is a helpful response to usher in compliance, as we wanted the cars put away, I realized that it missed a key component of play therapy choice giving. We didn’t acknowledge his feeling!
It is easy to acknowledge positive feelings, even though you may not be used to doing it! “You are happy!” “You are so proud of that!” “You are excited to go.” But, when you are trying to redirect a child’s behavior, the first step in the process is reflecting their negative feeling, too. This does several things. First, it acknowledges that EVERY feeling is acceptable. Not wanting to stop playing is okay. Not wanting to go to bed is understandable. Not wanting to pick up toys is valid. Not all behavior is acceptable, but every feeling is!
Second, it makes the child feel validated and understood. Can you imagine being told to do things all day long whether you really wanted to or not? It would be maddening! By telling your child that you understand and accept how he feels, it makes the child feel that his feelings matter to you.
Third, it gives a voice and a language to emotions that may be hard for kids to verbalize. They may not be able to articulate that they hate having to stop right in the middle of their battles or tea parties because they don’t have closure on their play, but you can reflect that to them! This helps them communicate more effectively in the future.
Choice Giving for Compliance
So, how would you use the whole process of choice giving with your own children? Using the example above, here is the full process:
“(Name), I know you are having so much fun playing with your cars, – Feeling Reflection
but it is time for dinner. – Limit
You can choose to put the cars away by yourself, or you can choose to have me put them away for you.” – Choice Giving
Can you see how just by adding the feeling reflection at the beginning, the child is much more likely not to fight about the request? There is a big difference between, “Come eat right now or you lose your cars” and “I know you are having a lot of fun playing with your cars, but it is time for dinner.” Just by acknowledging the child’s thoughts, feelings, and desires, it reduces power struggles and makes for a more respectful and healthy relationship between you and your kids! Give it a shot and see the difference that it makes – I suspect that you will be pleasantly surprised!