Blog: The Illusion of Choice, Without Negotiating with Our Kids.


“Raising kids is 1 part love, 2 parts strategy!”

This week on the Podcast we talked about three areas where Kristina and I have evolved our parenting style in, with regards to how we get the kids to listen. Over the last 15 years as parents, we have transitioned from the toddler who would throw physical tantrums that even damaged our house, to now well-behaved teenagers, even though we feel at times, we need a snow-shovel to lift them up off the video games.

We used to, like many parents, resort to two techniques when attempting to get the kids to listen and/or follow directions.  The first is when we would resort to negotiation, by offering other things later, in return for listening now.

An example of this in our life, was when our son was 3 or 4 years old and we wanted him to get ready to go along with us to a family event or something,  we would negotiate with him, by offering him things later in return for good behavior now.

The issue with that approach was, we were teaching him that when he does not want to do something, he could negotiate something else in return. This became such a bad habit that he would try to negotiate at dinner, bath-time, morning routines, in school, & everywhere really.  As parents, we taught him that habit!

The second technique routinely used by parents, even us, is when the kids are not listening and we yell “do as I say or _______”. As our kids get older, this approach becomes harder and harder. It is a very natural progression for kids to want more freedom and being told to do something against their will, could go against that grain. Kris and I agree, that kids should do as they are told and that is a lesson which should be taught at a very early age.

However, as our kids grew older, our parenting style evolved. We all want to raise independent and intelligent young adults, but when they start showing signs of independence and intelligence towards us, our frustrations mount.

Would it not just be easier to raise dumber kids? Ha Ha!

As they have become older, we now give our kids choices instead of demands in most cases. It is really an illusion of choice though. We want a specific outcome when we tell our kids to do something, so we focus on that desired outcome.

We present them with a choice in most cases which allows them to feel they have some control over the how or the when, but we never compromise on the what (aka the outcome.) Let’s use a light-hearted and easy example like taking a shower. We can yell from one room to the other, for our son to get in the shower now because we said so, but he will likely be in the middle of something he was enjoying and would normally return a loud “BUT” or groan.

Kris and I have evolved as the kids have gotten older. We no longer yell at them to take a shower, just because we remembered they had too. We instead let our kids know when it’s a bath night, and we tell them what our desired outcome is. In the shower example,  we want them in and out of the tub by 8:00pm or they lose video games tomorrow.

This gives them the illusion they have control, and they do to a smaller degree. They can get in at 6:30, 7, 730, or even the last minute. Of course most days they wait until the last minute, and although that frustrates us, our end goal of them taking a shower tonight was achieved. So, we are happy and the kids maintained the illusion of control over the situation, at the same time they are learning about responsibility, deadlines, and consequences. If they are just one minute late though, then we follow-thru with the consequences which were explained to them.

The factors we have found important to our parenting style in this regard are:

Do not compromise the outcome.

We limit the choices they have, by focusing those choices to the how or when something gets done, but never compromise on what gets done, which is our desired outcome. In our example above, they had the choice on when they get in the shower, just as long as it was done by 8pm.

State & Deliver the Consequences

We state the consequences for not meeting the desired outcome, right up front. Remember our example above, the desired outcome is taking a shower tonight, or they lose video games tomorrow. We do not let them try to negotiate taking it in the morning and if they are just one-minute late tonight, we deliver the consequence.

Answer the “Why” question before they ask, and only once!

Our kids will likely ask us the most annoying question all parents receive, which is “why?” Although this is often just a delay tactic by our kids, many times they are truly unsure as to why they are being asked to do something. As I said before, we are raising intelligent young adults and intelligent people ask why. To combat this annoyance,  we give the why at the same time we give the request/demand. Then we do not offer any further explanation.

In the shower example:

Our daughter will normally ask why she has to get in the shower first. So when we tell her she must be in and out of the shower by 8pm or lose video games tomorrow. We also remind her that she wants to be in before her brother, or it will be a cold shower.  That’s it, we do not debate or go deeper when she try’s to ask “why” another time.

Kristina and I struggle with parenting like everyone else, we get tired and often allow the kids to wear us down. As a result, we give in to their demands from time to time.

As we discussed on the podcast, to get our kids to listen we must continue to learn and evolve as parents. Kris and I struggle the most with the following-thru with delivery consequences,  and as we prepared for this blog and podcast episode, it reminded us that the key to getting our children to listen to us, is remembering that it is less about what the child does or does not do, and more about what we do or do not do.

I will leave you with this “illusion of choice” analogy. Think of a room, which has three doors to get into it. We want the kids to go into the room! As such, we can let the kids choose which door to use because in the end we just want them in the room. They get to feel like they are making a choice and we get them in the room. #winwin

We would love to hear your advice, questions, & struggles. Please join us in our private facebook group at


Learn more about Joshua & Kristina and The Mom & Dad Club by clicking here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s