“Next we had to get dressed and groomed. I had to brush my teeth three times before I got them good. I threw a TEENY fit because I wanted to wear my new blue shirt that’s for going places, and today is a stay at home day, so Mommy wanted me to wear play clothes. My little fit didn’t do any good—I wore the play clothes.”*
One of my favorite training topics with preschoolers (training—not the complete wonderful-ness of them, which is my fave!): avoiding too many choices too early. Why? Simply because this one simple training tool when understood and practiced religiously by parents can make a huge difference in how much you (and others!) enjoy your preschoolers.
In our story, Jonathan threw a TEENY fit because he didn’t get to wear what he wanted to wear that day. And, of course, his little fit did no good; he wore what I wanted him to wear.
Nowadays, we hear so much about self-actualization; self-esteem; etc. in children. And while we are all for building a healthy, godly self-esteem in children (God is great and we are small!), we have never bought into some of the ideals hailed in parenting magazines and from many “experts” (who had 1.2 preschoolers per person and a nanny!) concerning children needing to make so many decisions at early ages in order to be able to make decisions later. It simply isn’t true.
Children learn decision making by being GUIDED in decision making early—and then gradually being able to make decisions when they are older and wiser, have all of the information needed to make a decision, and are ready to suffer any consequences from decisions. In the case of always letting them decide what to eat, what to wear, when to go to bed, how much television to watch, etc., they have none of the aforementioned qualifications to make those decisions: not older, not wiser, lacking information needed, and not likely to suffer the consequences (at least not as much as Mom and Dad have to when they do not eat right, do not get enough sleep, etc.!).
We have found that one of the greatest training tips we can utilize in the preschool years is to avoid giving children too many choices too early. Instead of, “What do you want to wear today?” Our children are much better off with, “Do you want to wear the red play shirt or the blue play shirt?” Instead of, “Which drinking glass/cup do you want to use?” We have found it better to ask, “Do you want the skinny plastic cup or the short and chubby one?” (No reason for them to decide to use glass glasses or expensive mugs.)
And oftentimes, we have found that it is even appropriate to limit choices altogether. We have discovered that if our preschoolers are consistently unhappy with the choices, they are probably not ready to make choices. A discontent preschooler usually signals to us that we have given that child too many choices—and that we need to “bring in the boundaries” and limit choices until he is happy without them.
It is far better in raising preschoolers to make “choosing” a gradual process—one that is earned by the child, rather than a right that a little one gets simply because he or she is loud! Our method was to keep tight reins on our littles during the toddler years and into the preschool years—then to gradually loosen the reins as the child showed readiness. Whenever the child began throwing fits, being unhappy with the choices, etc., we knew that we had expanded the boundaries too far too quickly—and we brought them back in until more maturity was reached by the child.
Back to the “preschoolers need to make decisions and have choices in order to be a decision maker later on”: by holding tightly at first, we are not saying the child will not learn to make decisions. We are saying that the parents can tell when the child is ready for each step of decision making—and that is when that privilege should be given.
Think about it—we do it all the time with important things. We do not let the child wander outside where ever he wants. He is not mature enough to make that call. We do not let the toddler sit in the vehicle in any seat. We know, as wiser and more mature adults, that the car seat is the safest place. And guess what? The child accepts those decisions that are made for him because he has not been given choices in those matters.
In the case of little daily decisions, we have found that giving a child too many choices too early is the number one reason for discontentment and difficulty. Our benchmark for allowing the little one any choice was this: is he or she happy without getting to make the decision? If not, chances are good that it is too soon for that little one to have that freedom.