One Simple Thing You Can Stop Doing That’s Stressing Out Your Kids

September 16, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

So there I was at McDonalds on a Sunday morning, doing what I do every Sunday morning–playing games on my iPad when I should be polishing up my sermon.  No, no, no.  I’m working on my sermon. Then a family comes and sits in the booth next to me.  The mom sets the dad and the kids down at the booth and before she goes and orders, she asks her 2-3 year old son a question.

“What would you like to drink?”


“Do you want milk?”








You might think that I’m exaggerating the number of times of this back and forth went down because I’m a curmudgeon.  However, I assure you that if this is not accurate, it is because that it is under-reported.

Disclaimers: I am not normally an eavesdropper.  I usually keep to myself in these situations and try not listen to other people’s conversations.  This was loud and right next to me. Also, I am not the kind of guy who judges someone’s parenting by their worst moment at Wal-Mart (What is it about Wal-Mart that makes kids throw fits? Something in the air?  Also, something in the air of malls sucks the life out of dads.) I’m sure this is a good family.  I’m simply making an observation about this situation and what it says about a troubling trend in parenting.

So what is the problem here at McDonalds?  The mom asked her son to make a choice when she didn’t really want him to have a choice.  She wanted him to have milk.  She was hoping that somehow her son would naturally choose against the sweet sugary caffeinated drink that energizes and hypes him up and instead would choose the healthy option so that his bones would be strong.  That is not a choice that a lot of kids are going to make, if they legitimately have a choice.

So now they have this altercation in public and the mom is stressed because the kid won’t choose milk.  The kid is stressed because someone asked him what he wanted and he told them.  Then they decided he wasn’t going to get what he wanted.  Not just that, he was being told that what he wanted.  She’s stressed.  He’s stressed.  I’m stressed. (Wait. That’s irrelevant.)

What should the mom have done?  Simple, yet potentially controversial, answer: stop giving your kid choices.  Give the kid milk.  The kid is too young for soda, and it would seem that you know that.  You don’t want him to have soda.  Don’t give the kid soda.  Don’t give him the choice for soda.

“Wait, wait, wait.  It’s important to teach kids how to make choices.  We don’t want to be controlling.  We want to foster healthy self-esteem.”  Fine, I’ll soften it a little bit.  Don’t give a kid a choice when he doesn’t really have a choice.  Only give choices when choices are actually available.  “You are having milk for breakfast.  Would you like to drink it out of the carton directly, do you want a straw or do you want me to put in a cup for you?”  Now you have given your child a choice they can make.

How do you know the difference?

1)       Don’t give them a choice if there is a wrong choice. This stresses kids out big-time.  You are giving them a false sense of control when they have none. You are telling them that they can make their own decision, but they can’t.

Mom works all afternoon making dinner. “We are having chicken for dinner. Would you like some?”  “No.” Gives kid chicken for dinner.

How frustrating is that?  You make the kid think they have a choice.  They don’t.  Better to teach your kids that there are some areas in our life where we don’t really have a choice.  There are boundaries to the decisions that we can make.  Their teachers do not ask them if they are ready for the test.  They place the test on the desk.  Their boss will not ask them if they are ready to come to work.  They tell them when work starts and fire them if they determine they are “not ready.”

You are the parent.  Teach and show them what they are supposed to do.  Teaching your kids right and wrong supersedes their need to make choices.  Show them right.  Point them away from wrong and when they later are in situations where there is a right and wrong choice, they will be equipped to make the right choice.

2)      Don’t give them a choice that they are not ready for. Do not ask your child at bed-time if they are ready for bed.  Do not ask them at dinner time if they are hungry.  Unless, they are rhetorical questions.  Even still, I advise against it.  Tell your child it is bed-time.  Tell them it is time to eat.  Who cares if they are ready? They don’t know how much sleep they need.  They don’t know when or what kind of food they need to eat.  You do, because you are the parent.

This does not end when your kids get older.  They become ready for some choices and are not ready for others.  My girls do not get to decide when they are ready to date or whom they are going to date. (I get a smug satisfaction from using whom correctly.)  My wife and I decide that. They don’t get to decide when they are ready to drive on their own.  Their parents decide that.  We want them to be a part of the process.  They can give input, but they don’t get to choose on their own.  Our oldest is a Senior and is making a decision about college.  Let me say that better.  She is a part of facilitated process where together we will make a decision.

Doesn’t it frustrate your kids that they can’t make their own decisions? Doesn’t it bother them that you don’t trust them?  Simple answer: yes.  However, I don’t believe that it is near the level of frustration that a kid has that has to make choices that they don’t know how to make or to be given false hope that they can make a decision when they can’t.

It is our job to train our girls.  We have to teach them to make good decisions.  We have to help them to get ready for decisions that they will face when they are away from us—school, with friends, etc.  That is hard work and it can be very stressful, but not near as stressful as dealing with a kid who is being asked to make decisions that they shouldn’t or can’t make.


One Response to “One Simple Thing You Can Stop Doing That’s Stressing Out Your Kids”
  1. Carolyn Loften says:

    Also as the Author will remember, you instinctively knew that you wouldn’t get a choice on some things at all. So, you don’t ask. Motorcycles, Tats and piercings to name a few.

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