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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Autonomy is Awesome(ish)

Read any parenting book or pick up any parenting magazine, and you're bound to find a discussion of how important it is to make your toddler feel autonomous.  Autonomy is supposedly the super secret to getting your child to behave and grow up normal - you know, with self-esteem and good behavior and a sense of self and all that stuff.  (Now, if you're not familiar with "autonomy," it's basically a fancy word for "I'm my own boss.")

Well, guess who's read all those books and articles?  This girl.  And what did I learn?  That in order to help your toddler develop autonomy, you're supposed to give them choices.  Lots and lots of choices.  These choices will boost self-esteem, create a feeling of independence, and help improve behavior.  See, you give kids lots of choices so that way, when you need them to get-your-shoes-on-right-this-second-because-we-were-supposed-to-leave-thirty-minutes-ago-and-I-don't-really-have-time-to-argue-about-which-shoes-you-wear, they will say to themselves, "Hmm, Mommy usually gives me choices all day long.  But today, Mommy's in a big hurry.  So, I'm going to cut her some slack and just do what she says.  You know, because she hardly ever just tells me what to do without giving me any say in it." Got it?  Good.

I'm not exactly sold on all of that behavioral stuff, but I do know that Gavin likes to have choices.  And, at this point, he's grown pretty accustomed to choices.  If I took them away, I'm pretty sure he'd start a riot.  (Or just write all over my walls with a Sharpie.  Same thing, right?)  Unfortunately, I've found that giving choices doesn't always go as I planned.

Example #1:
Me:  Gavin, do you want string cheese or yogurt?
Gavin:  I want fruit snacks.
Me:  That wasn't one of your choices.  Do you want string cheese or yogurt?
Gavin:  How about I pick something on my own?
Me:  Do you want string cheese or yogurt?
Gavin:  Do we have any chocolate milk?

Example #2:
Me:  Gavin, do you want to watch baseball or Sponge Bob?
Gavin:  How about you put Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on?
Me:  Mickey isn't on right now.  Do you want baseball or Sponge Bob?
Gavin:  Ummm . . . . how about Toy Story?
Me:  Baseball or Sponge Bob?
Gavin:  How about Lightening McQueen and Toy Story?

You see, it's not that he doesn't understand that I'm giving him choices, it's that he wants more choices.  In fact, he would rather to choose all of the choices he gets.  Not quite the way it's supposed to go, I think.

My second problem revolves around the fact that you're only supposed to give kids choices that you're willing to accept or are actually feasible.  For instance, you can't say to your toddler, "You can either get in the car now, or you can stay home alone," unless you want protective services to come a-knockin'. I tend to fall short in this area.  (Not the leaving my kid home alone part - just to clarify.)

Example #1:
Gavin, you can either stop crying, or I can cut your arm off with a butter knife.

Example #2:  
Gavin, you can either pick up your toys, or I can karate chop you in the throat.

Example #3:
Gavin, you can either listen, or I can throw Buzz Lightyear out of the car window so that a semi-truck runs him over.

Example #4:
You can either have pizza or a knuckle sandwich.

Example #5:
Gavin, you need to stop screaming, or I'm going to feed you to a lion.

You see, these are not considered acceptable choices because a) I don't really assault my son with butter knives, b) I rarely karate chop my kid and never in the throat, c) I cannot guarantee that I could time it so Buzz would actually get run over by a semi-truck, d) I'm fresh out of bread so the knuckle sandwich is out, and e) my lion ran away.

So, I'm still working on the "reasonable choices" thing.

My third problem is that sometimes I let Gavin have free reign over things (like picking out his own clothes) rather than providing a set of choices every day.  This creates a problem when he wants to wear his Buzz Lightyear pajamas to daycare, and he thinks this is totally fine because I told him to get dressed and, well, he is dressed isn't he?

But, don't you worry.  One day, I will figure this all out.  Then, I will write a book about it, millions of parents will read it, children across the world will suddenly be perfect angels, and world peace will abound.  Or something like that.


  1. Those conversations sound very familiar to me. Oh and my daughter dressed herself in princess gowns everywhere we went for about a year and a half.

  2. Hysterical!!! Love this post...this IS MY LIFE!

  3. Hahahaha! I love all the unacceptable choices.

    Have you found your lion?

  4. OMG your examples are freaking hilarious. And I totally think pajamas should be acceptable public attire.

  5. Hilarious. My 17 month old dosen't talk much yet so I guess this is what I'm in for soon! I usually give him food choices by showing him two foods and having him point at one. Other than that it's kind of whatever he wants goes. Guess I'll have to keep posted for all your tips :)
    PS Love the Buzz costume!
    Following from the Meaningful Monday hop.
    Sarah @ made in usa challenge

  6. Lol, I just love the feeding to the lion.
    New follower from VB, GFC following.

  7. Lucky me, the one day I let my son pick out his clothes, it was pajama day at school. He went in what he slept in. I've threatened to leave him home alone & let the dogs "babysit" him. Making "mistakes" as a parent is totally normal because we aren't perfect, and neither are those beautiful little creatures we gave birth to.

  8. Ahhh, the knuckle sandwich...I remember being offered a knuckle sandwich as a kid. I never actually got one, I wonder how they taste :)
    If you need some help making "have you seen me" posters for your lion, I'm happy to help!
    I like to think that I'll let my daughter wear whatever bizarre outfit choices she makes but I guess we'll see how that goes when the time comes.