Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tough Choices

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

Ryan and I had a bit of a disagreement the other afternoon that might help to illustrate how I use Positive Discipline techniques in combination with my principle of giving the kids as much choice and control over their own bodies as I possibly can.

As I mentioned in the potty training post, one of the lessons Brendan and I learned about Ryan is that he is very reluctant to take care of his bodily needs when his brain is engaged. The potty thing isn't so much of an issue anymore, outside of his tendency to drop trou and play "pee-pee light sabers" in the front yard with his next door friend--although I think they'll change it to "pee-pee Ghostbusters" after they've seen that movie: "Don't ever cross the streams!" Boys are interesting creatures.

But I digress.

But Ryan still neglects to eat, drink, or sleep when his brain is turned on and fully activated. A trait which, as a friend pointed out, comes directly straight from Brendan. See? Ryan's not All Me after all!

The other afternoon, we were all hanging outside in the front yard, and it was HOT--mid-80s, if you can believe. Ryan and Morgan had been playing outside with their friends for several hours, and he was sweaty and dirty. Good times. He complained to me about how hot he was as he was zooming past me for the hundredth time, so I said that it was probably time he took a drink of water to rehydrate and offered him my water bottle.

Immediately, "NO! I don't want to take a drink of water!"

Now, if he had just stopped with a run-of-the-mill objection, and if he hadn't looked soooooo very hot and thirsty and tired, I would not have pushed the issue. But upon observing him, I realized that it had probably been a very long time since he had had anything at all to drink. And knowing him, I realized that he might need my assistance in doing the right thing for himself.

Also, he stopped right in front of me and began barraging me with complaints and objections--because he knew what was coming! "I'm not going to drink water! You're not the boss of me! I'm in charge of my own body!" etc. etc. etc. He doth protest too much, methinks.

So I told him very calmly, "You've been outside playing for many hours in the hot sun. I can tell by the way you look and by the way you are acting that you need a drink. You need to stay hydrated when playing hard outside in the hot sun. This is something that must be done in order for you to be safe and healthy. So you have a choice--take a drink right now or go inside where it is cooler."

He: "I hate this choice! I don't wanna make this choice! Why do I always have the tough decisions?"

Me: "It seems to me like you're choosing to go inside since I haven't seen you take a drink yet. Can you go inside all by yourself, or do you need my help?"

He tried to stare me down (I think it's a Jedi thing) and I just looked back at him. Then he grabbed my water bottle, took a long drink, sat down on the grass, and began to cry.

He: "That was so mean! Why did you make me drink? I hate having all of these tough choices!"

Me: "I know you didn't want to stop and take a drink."

He: "Why do YOU always get to tell me what to do? I want to decide if I want a drink or not!"

Me: "I know you do. And usually, you ARE the one in charge of deciding when your body is thirsty. But sometimes I've noticed that when you're really busy, you don't like to stop and take care of your body--like when you don't want to eat something. I know that your body needs water when you're playing outside on a hot day--I have that information and experience and when I notice that you are not taking care of your body, then I will help you do that. It's actually my job to help you make good choices about taking care of yourself if I notice that you are not making good choices."

He had stopped crying enough to tell me: "Well, I want to decide!"

Me: "Yes, and you chose to take a drink because you didn't want to go inside. You made a good decision, since you wanted to stay outside and play some more."

He: "Well . . . I really don't like all of these tough choices I have to make ALL THE TIME."

Me: "Mmm-hhmmmm." (Thinking, well, one day you'll have a mortgage, kid!)

And then he ran off and played some more, and came and took water breaks of his own accord.

For Ryan, breaking him out of the not-good-for-him cycle really helps him get back on track, and then he really is generally amenable to making good choices.

But I also liked how I handled this issue from a PD perspective. I didn't get upset, I explained the reasoning, set the limit, and gave him a choice in what happened. I empathized with his feelings and allowed him to express them appropriately (I don't view his saying that he doesn't like something I'm doing as inappropriate--very much a different view from that of my own parents when I was a child).

I also reinforced my own principles--helping him understand the way in which I knew he was thirsty (pointing him to reality), explaining that my role as someone more experienced was to give him information he might not have, giving him as much freedom as I could before drawing the line, knowing that if I had to force him into the house that I would do it gently and calmly, and pointing out that the decision he made was a good one given his desire to continue to play outside.

I decided that this was a battle I'd be willing to "fight" because of his tendency to ignore his physical needs and because it was really pretty damn hot that day and he clearly needed a drink. This fell into the realm of personal safety--so I stepped in, in a kind and firm way, and ultimately he made a good choice.

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