Patrick McDavid

I'm a technology leader in Colorado speaking about serverless computing, team building, devops, and leadership development.

Practicing Making Choices

13 November 2018

My wife Briana and I reached an impasse with our three-year-old a few weekends ago. A beautiful fall morning’s hike in the neighborhood park came to a howling halt as the tyke staged a rebellion.

Parenting challenges come in waves. You’ll find a rhythm that works, you’ll have a few weeks (maybe) of steady plodding, then wham, the kid’s a little smarter, and you have to adapt. In our turn, Briana and I had been leveling a scattershot of consequences and pleas. Some landed, some missed. Under the staring October sunshine our son had brought our family of four to a standstill.

Briana explored some resources and turned us onto a pair of parenting books: Parenting with Love and Logic, and 1-2-3 Magic. These offered two distinct central tactical strategies for moments of parental difficulty, but were united in a couple of key themes.

Theme: Quiet

It’s so easy to want to try and reason with your kids. You see them getting smarter by the day, and you want to give them more information so they can be better next time. Arguing, bickering, shouting, outlandish threats. I’m certainly guilty across the board. The books talk about the Little Adults Fallacy: kids aren’t reasonable and selfless yet. We can’t expect them to thank us for enlightening them just yet.

Instead, you want to have a simple communicative method for rerouting the kids energies. Then you want to rinse and repeat until both parent and child are very used to what to expect in these circumstances. What you need to engender is for the kid to sit in the situation and consider what they want to do next.

You have to shut up. When your mouth is running, the kid’s not going to be thinking. So you have to practice letting the moment hang on them.

Theme: Don’t take on your child’s problem

Love and Logic is very explicit: your child needs to suffer with the positive and negative consequences of their choices. When your kids fail a class, it’s not your problem to solve it. It’s not your place to harangue their teacher and even read them the riot act. Failing grades are the consequence; the self-consciousness of their disappointing the teacher is the consequence.

The parents’ role is to empathize. Both books emphasize natural consequences and that the kid needs to bear the brunt. We oughtn’t protect unless there’s imminent danger. The kids need to figure out options and suffer failure to learn perseverance. These examples and others in the book seem harsh, and occasionally heartless, but by and large the message is sound. The more you shelter the less they develop.

Tactic: Love and Logic’s Choices

Love and Logic’s central strategy is to focus your child’s frustration into acceptable, enforceable choices.

“When a child causes a problem, the adult shows empathy through sadness and sorrow and then lovingly hands the problem and its consequences back to the child.”

Love and Logic continues by suggesting parents give their kids two choices in responding to stressful situations. Real choices, fair choices. Both acceptable to the parent. Then let the kid choose, honor their choice, and then let them live with the consequences.

The book asks whether there should be a prevailing motif of tightening or loosening of freedom as kids age. It posits that it’s far better to restrict kids’ freedoms when they’re young, and open them up as they age.

Kids need to learn to weigh options and make choices. The only way to learn this is through practice and mistakes. Love and Logic wants kids to make these mistakes while they’re inexpensive. These choices should be clear, terse and wholly theirs. The parent shouldn’t push opinions and backstory. Be quiet and let the kid think.

Tactic: 1-2-3 Magic’s Countdown

Magic seems a bit less developmental. Its thrust is to as dispassionately as possible let the kid know that their behavior is unacceptable and that to continue will bring predictable consequences. Again: don’t be drawn into argument or negotiation. Give the kids about ten seconds to clean up their act or they get to take some time to think about it, or lose a privilege.

“as a parent you must frustrate your kids on a regular basis, because you can’t possibly give them everything they want.”

Magic’s choice-pair is prescribed absolutely: stop that, or bear a simple consequence. The constriction of creativity is the feature here: do this every time and the kid repeatedly experiences their bad choice bringing time-outs.

Shared Language

Jargon gets a bad rap. Jargon are specialized terms that allow practitioners to operate more expediently by utilizing shortcut phrases that mean a lot in a single word.

Briana and I needed improved tools to approach our kids together with less improvisation. Kids are stressful. You love them like the dickens, and you’ve got 100 other things going, and these things don’t need to be built from scratch.

We’ll take these for a ride; see what happens. They feel good today. They’re a new lens to observe my own behavior and that of the kids.