Freedom of Choice

My boys taught me a really interesting lesson today, and I thought I would share it with you…

First, a little bit of background info:  The rule of our house is that most toys are communal but there are some “special” toys in our house that only belong to one child.  Even so, the children are encouraged to share toys designated “mine” with siblings old enough and responsible enough to take care of those toys.  This morning, the boys were arguing over a toy camera that had recently been passed on to our oldest boy from an older sister…

I first began to deal with their squabble by reminding S of our house rules for situations like this (generally, if someone wants to play with a toy another child has, we set a timer for an hour and then they’ll switch.)  But no matter how I spun it (his brother wouldn’t play with it for long,  giving it to his brother was the “nice thing to do,”etc,) he just couldn’t accept that decision. At the end of all my best explanations and urgings, his eyes were still shining with tears.

Now, at this point I could have simply told him those were the rules, reprimanded him for being selfish, and forced him to give his brother the toy.  This is most likely what I would have done in the past.  But recently I’ve come to realize that by simply enforcing the rules, I’m not addressing the HEARTS of my children.  In this particular situation, BOTH of my children are sinning, in that they’re both acting selfishly by fighting to get what they want, at the expense of what someone else wants.  (An excellent book has been written on this subject, called Shepherding a Child’s Heart.  I highly recommend it, and wish I’d read it years ago!)

In light of that understanding, I really wanted to involve S’s heart in this situation.  I wanted to somehow put him in a position where he could CHOOSE to love his brother and share with him – not because he was asked to but because he wanted to.

So I changed tactics.

I called G into the room with us and sat them both down.  I addressed S first, explaining to him that his brother really wanted to have a turn with the camera and asking him:

“If you were going to be as loving as you could possibly be to your brother right now, what would you do?”

(By now, this is a pretty familiar line of questioning for the kids, I’ll often ask this with the understanding that they don’t have to DO the most loving thing, I just want them to think about what the most loving thing to do IS.)

He answered: “Let G play with it for the rest of the day.”

I praised him for that answer, then turned the question to G.  He answered:

“Let S play with it for the rest of the day.”

I praised his idea as well, and then asked if they could both think of something they would be willing to do, that would enable BOTH of them to be loving toward their brother.  Almost immediately, the tears left S’s eyes as he began thinking of ways he could give G what he wanted.  He first came up with: “G can have it for the rest of the day!”  I told him that was a great decision and a very loving thing to do, and that we needed to give G a chance to be loving, too.  I asked G the same question and he came up with “Scan have it for the rest of the day!”  Both boys were grinning at this point and I was easily able to direct them to a solution that would allow both of them to get what they wanted and, more importantly, for both of them to act in a loving way toward their brother (in the end, S decided to let G have it first for two hours, and G decided that after his two hours, S could have it for the rest of the day.)

Here’s what struck me about that exchange: I had been talking to S for several minutes, trying to reason him into being okay with G   having the camera for just one hour AFTER he had had his hour with the camera.  No matter how I spun it, though, he just couldn’t accept that solution.  But once I asked him to think of his OWN way to show love to his brother, he decided to give MORE than I was asking of him in the first place!  And the best part is that neither of them ended up with the camera for as long as they originally wanted it, and they’ve been passing it back and forth between each other all day.

How is it that by giving him the freedom to work it out on his own, he not only became willing to share, but became willing to share to such an extreme?  I think there are more things to learn in that exchange than I even understand yet.


Discipline/Discipleship/Raising Godly Children


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Just wait until they’re teens… Sorry, but I just don’t buy that.
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“Fair” is where they sell pigs

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7 Responses to Freedom of Choice

  1. Patti says:

    I read an article one time when raising my kids. It had to do with clothes. (what to wear, which for the girls was always a problem). It said to give them three choices, but on the second day they would only have 2 and on the last day, there would only be one choice. The first 2 days were easy, but the last day was a wreck. But I found that if you give them the choices, it lets them feel more in control. And whether we like it or not, as they grow, they need more control of their choices. It makes them think abt it a lot as they get older.

  2. Cheryl says:

    Stick with your guns. If you change your mind, they will think your rules aren’t right. You are the boss and one day they will thank you for it. Teach them to share their stuff and help each other in how it works. Make them feel that they are teaching also. ;)

    • Rina says:

      Cheryl and Patti, I think it’s not so much a matter of me “being the boss” or of them “feeling more in control” as it is me making MY standards – and more importantly GOD’S standards – THEIR standards. I think it’s one thing to say to a child “you have the choice between this modest thing and this modest thing” and something else entirely to say “this is what modesty means, this is what it entails, this is why we should strive for it. Now, which of these dresses do you think is the most modest? Which do you think would please God more? Which do you think would help your brothers in Christ not to stumble?” In the second scenario, you’ve given them a standard (modesty) and a REASON to abide by that standard (pleasing God, helping their brothers, etc.) In this way, the standard becomes a part of their own internal morality compass, instead of something being forced on them. And, as Patti said, as they get older I think it will help them remember to think through their actions as they get older.

  3. Great post, Rina! I loved Shepherding a Child’s Heart back when I read it years ago. Now that I have more children and more real life situations to work on, maybe it’s time for another read through.

  4. Dana says:

    The beautiful thing is that Rina isn’t just teaching them that they have to share, she’s teaching them to want to share, and that is a much more important lesson. Coming from such a behaviorist standpoint in my job, I think that is where I will struggle as a parent, yet there is nothing in the behaviorist side of me that has a problem with what you did. They still ended up sharing in the end, but did so with a willing and cheerful heart instead of an attitude that could breed resentment and bitterness. Yes, there may be some occasions where you just have to make them stick to the rules, but my guess is that with your parenting style those times will be few and far between. I’ve got a lot to learn from you, Rina!

    • Rina says:

      Thanks, Dana. Everything I know, I learned from books and from mothers wiser than myself. Funny thing is, you’re right. I really HAVEN’T needed to make the kids stick to the rules, lately… they’re not only obeying on their own, they’re even coming to me and confessing when they disobey. It’s pretty amazing, really.