When your child offers the third option: the choice you didn't give

When your child offers the third option: the choice you didnt give

“Do you want to pick up the blocks or the books?” you ask your child.  That’s when she cheerily offers, “I’ll pick up the dolls.”  This was not one of the options you’ve offered, yet she’s still cleaning up and it’s true the dolls do need to be picked up too.  Do you let this one go, delighted that you have a creative child who sees what needs to be done and is doing it?  Or, do you “control” the situation and firmly state, “That’s not a choice.  I told you, you can pick up the blocks or the books.  Which one will it be?”  Knowing full well that the power struggle is about to begin.

You have to know what your real interest is in order to figure out your response.  

If what’s really important to you is cleaning up the toys, then if your child chooses to take care of the dolls your interests are being met.  All is well and you can move along working together.

It’s when we get stuck in positions that we get into trouble.

When you reply, “I said books or blocks,” you are locking into a position.  When your child replies, “dolls,” you are set up for a winner and a loser.  I get my way – you lose.  Or, you get your way and I lose.  This is NOT where you want to go.

So what’s the difference between position and interest?

  • Position is one solution to get what you want.
  • Interest is why you want it.

 When you work from a position level you can only have a winner and loser.

For example, you want your child to drink from the red cup.  He wants the blue cup.  Immediately you are set up for power struggles and meltdowns. 

When you work from an interest level you are focused on what is REALLY important to you.

 As a result you open yourself to many potential solutions.  For example, you offer your child the red cup and he says he wants the blue one.  If you know that your real interest is simply for him to have some liquids it doesn’t matter to you which cup it is in and you can say, “Good thinking. The red cup is bigger and you can drink lots of water with your meal.”   The result is a win/win solution which means the interests of both you and your child – drinking liquids and using the favorite red cup - are met. 

Let’s take a look at a few examples:


A position might be…

An interest might be…

Getting dressed

Red pants or black pants

Wearing something to keep the legs warm


Eat your peas

Eat a vegetable or fruit for a balanced diet

Clean up

Pick up the cars and trucks

Help clean up

Wear shoes when riding a bike

Wear your tennis shoes or black shoes

Feet are covered so they are safe

 Why would you bother to focus on interests?

  • Don’t you want your child to just obey you and do what you asked or said the first time you say it? 
  • Why do you have to talk about this?
  • Or, even think about different options? 

 What happens during these interactions is that you are teaching your child WHY something is important.

  • The focus is on the reason, not just because you said so.
  • We drink fluids to hydrate.
  • We wear pants to stay warm and avoid frostbite. 

The reality is that one day your child will be making decisions when you are not with her.

If you’ve simply insisted that she obey you without thinking she has no practice judging the situation on her own. But if you’ve taken those few minutes to clarify and explain your interest you have taught her over and over how to think about what’s really important.  Ultimately she realizes I need to dress in a way that is appropriate for the weather.  I need to have a liquid with my solid food, or I need to clean up messes I make.  These are all interests.

Emotion coaches know their real interests.  What is really important in this situation?  This allows for flexibility and makes working together so much easier. 

Next time your child offers option number three, you can say to yourself, “She’s still cleaning up.  My interests are met.”  And aloud to her, “Oh great, we are all still cleaning up together.  Good thinking.  I forgot about the dolls!” 

Or, if you’ve offered her a choice between the blue or the black pants and she chooses the red ones.  Your interest is getting dressed so she’s not cold, you can be flexible and respond, “Oh, great your legs will still be covered.  Good idea.” 

Enjoy the benefits of living with a creative problem-solver.

You never quite know when this effort will pay off, but one day it did big time for me.  I’ll never forget the afternoon my son came home from high school and announced that his French class was going to France that summer.  “May I go?”  He’d asked.   I was stressed and exhausted that day and instead of stopping to seek understanding or even listen, I sharply responded, “The one who needs a vacation is me, not you!”  Fortunately by that age my son was a highly skilled problem solver.  Instead of getting upset with me, he calmly stated, “Then meet me in Paris.”  And that’s exactly what I did! 

Knowing your interest and stopping to consider your child’s interest does take time.  When you do so however, not only do you stop the power struggles before they begin, you also teach life lessons.  You raise a child who is a creative and flexible thinker able to work with you even during the tough times and you do it without giving up anything that is really important to you.   

Next time:  Coming up with those win/win solutions 

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