We always have choices

A mother asked the folks at Love and Logic if they weren’t giving kids the idea that adults are nicer than they really are. Most adults expect kids to do what they ask of them. Adults don’t give choices to kids; adults don’t chose their words carefully so as to not invite arguments. “There will be plenty of times when kids will just have to obey without a choice.” She wondered, I think, if we aren’t setting kids up for a harsh reality check.

Jedd Hefer, the Love and Logic author of the piece I’m responding to, reminded us that Love and Logic teaches sharing of power, not letting kids have all the power. He shared that we still need to set consequences and follow up with them.

Finally, he said they don’t teach blind obedience as we might steer kids wrong.

I think one of the most powerful things Love and Logic teaches is the connection between choice and consequence. It teaches parents to not make decision for kids and it teaches parents to not rescue kids from consequences. When parents get these two things right, the kids learn it too. And we always have choices.

The more I work with Love and Logic, the more I see choices everywhere. I was in charge of a toddler, not my usual area of strength (I work with teenagers and their families), who had grabbed a pair of scissors. I knew I needed to get those out of her hands. I could have physically taken them, I could have demanded them, I could have scared her, I could have condescended to her, “You don’t want to play with those, you want to give them to me and play with this nice paper weight.” I took a deep breath, reminded myself that she wasn’t in danger right at that moment and that I had time. How could I give her choices? How could I give her choices that a two-year-old would understand? I was out of my league for Love and Logic, but I had some safety in that I could physically take them if needed. I had an idea, and I decided to try it.

I rolled out my right hand and said, “Would you like to put the scissors in my right hand,” then I rolled out my other hand, “or would you like to put them in my left hand?” She looked at each of my hands one at a time–she studied them. I held my breath and said to myself: no lectures, no threats. She chose a hand and placed the scissors in it. I breathed out. I also felt really good. I did it, I used choices and it worked.

To bring this back to the woman’s question. If a boss tells you to do something, obedience is expected. But there are choices hidden in here. The most dramatic choice is outright refusal (done politely in this case). As long as you understand the consequences, you can chose to not do what the boss ordered.

I was just listening to a story of a police officer who refused to obey his superior officers’ quota system because it unethically (and I think illegally) pushes officers to make up crimes or cite citizens for bigger crimes than committed. He had to stand up to his bosses, people in uniform, people with guns, people used to having orders obeyedm in a culture that demands obedience and punishes those who don’t. He was brave to do so.

I want us teaching children that they have choices. I want them to run what they have been asked or ordered to do through an ethical filter. Ethics takes weighing, it takes thought. Ethics does not always have clean answers. On the face of it, and in my skimpy vignette, it seems obvious that the police officer should not comply with unethical orders. But he likely has other ethical obligations, such as to his future self in terms of a pension, to his family in terms of paying rent and buying food and sending kids to college. To the department to uphold the culture of loyalty and obedience, were everyone must rely on everyone else to do the job safely.

I want to give kids as much practice making these choices when the learning is cheap, when the consequences are lower.

Writing this has brought to mind times when I’ve made choices to stand up to power. I bet it has done the same to you. Maybe you have memories of being stood up to as well.

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