Monday, January 18, 2010

The Power of Choice

We had a meltdown in the car yesterday. I think I understand what caused the problem. The root of it is that our "babies" (now two, actually, and I will have to think of another descriptor for them soon-ish) are beginning to express opinions and wishes with all the enthusiasm that two year olds can muster. My oldest daughter has had almost six years of being the only kid opinion in our family, and I imagine there will be quite a little period of adjustment as she learns that her siblings have desires and wants as well. In particular, the latest thing is that the twins want to trade car seats sometimes. Because their car seats are at the same stage and they are basically the same size I am more than happy to let them sit in different seats if it means they'll climb into the seats more willingly. So our little girl decided she wanted to sit in the back of the van yesterday and for some unknown reason our big girl wanted to sit by her sister in the back. This is when the problem arose. The other back seat in the van was folded down and covered up by our double stroller and some other miscellaneous cargo. At minimum it would take several minutes to rearrange seats and cargo in order to accommodate this request for our oldest daughter to change seats. There are some times when I might have honored the request, but this was not one of those times. We were running late for lunch and for the babies' naps, it was raining, and we were not parked under shelter. These factors added quickly to a "not this time" answer, and the meltdown commenced.

The bottom line was our little girl had gotten a choice about where she wanted to sit, but our big girl didn't get a choice and was letting us know how unhappy she was about it. Now we were driving, and the only course of action was to give as little attention as possible to the tantrum. This is hard when confined to a car. I'm not very good at it. I have to use peripheral vision to make sure she is not going to lash out physically at whoever is nearby. Yesterday I finally told her she could yell as much as she wanted to but she had to keep her hands and feet down. After I told her this it was a short time later that she stopped yelling and said in a regulated voice, "I really wanted to sit in the back." All I could say was, "Sometimes you can't have what you want." Knowing that she was now listening better I explained that some other time we could change her seat if she wanted to, but today it was not okay because of the rain.

I purposely did some things later in the day to show her that she could still exercise her choice. I let her choose from a list of possibilities what she wanted for lunch, and I invited her to come with me to pick items for her upcoming birthday party.

Lessons learned from the meltdown:
  • Choice is a powerful motivator
  • Lack of choice is potentially infuriating, especially if we don't understand the reasons
  • Removing some aspects of a tantrum may shorten the duration
  • Re-establishing the power of choice is essential

Obviously this is fresh. I'm still processing many aspects of the event. Your thoughts and ideas would be most welcome. Just leave a comment below!


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