If you give a child a choice

give a child a choice

When was the last time you read the delightful children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?

If you need a refresher or synopsis, the story revolves around the “what if” of giving a mouse a cookie, and the humorous consequences that just don’t stop, ultimately leaving the youthful main character exhausted on the floor.

We loved that book and laughed over it countless times.

But the joke was really on my husband and I.

We never recognized we were the tired little boy, endlessly reacting to the consequences of our children’s choices. And to be perfectly honest here, I have to admit to expressing no small amount of anger and irritation rather than the grace and goodwill expressed by the little boy.

These trying times would peak particularly when our daughters dilly-dallied on school mornings, creating tears and tantrums.

However, when my husband and I became aware of how we were contributing to the problem and then discovered a solution, boy, did our mornings change for the better!



We hadn’t set expectations


There was no real structure in our mornings other than everyone was supposed to be dressed before we headed out the door. (Focus on the important, right? :-))

We hadn’t established or communicated any real guidelines for being prepared or eating breakfast, either, although we did draw the line at candy, cake and cookies.

What we had was a wealth of opportunities for us to get irritated with each other for unmet expectations:

Alexis and Leslie, surprised and angry that I was yelling at them for “no reason”.

Me, feeling irritated and disrespected because my little girls weren’t reading my mind and didn’t feel the same urgency to be as punctual as I did. Plus, I was being tag-teamed because Keith went to work hours before I did.



We didn’t allow natural consequences to occur


For some reason, we thought that yelling at our children would encourage them to make better choices. And that the louder we yelled, and the more things we took away, the more valued they would feel as individuals.

Funny how that didn’t work.

What we didn’t realize was that we were working frantically to keep our kids from experiencing the consequences of their behaviors.



We needed to let the consequences be the teacher


Through attending a parenting class, Keith and I were introduced to the book Positive Discipline, written by Jane Nelson. This book had solid, actionable ideas to help us better parents.

We agreed that first we had to make some changes, starting with keeping ourselves cool, calm and collected at all times when dealing with our little lovelies.

The thought having the same miserable mornings over and over again was far more painful than the thought of changing, so we were all in.



We created the framework for success, and so can you


1. First, three critical points:

We were serious about changing how we responded to our children (yelling vs being calm). Obviously, if they were headed into immediate physical danger, we would have gotten their attention by any means necessary.

We stood in unity with each other. Period. Kids detect and exploit dissension better than bomb detectors locate and dispense with explosives.

We were warned they would probably test our resolve by escalating behavior in an attempt to keep things the same, whether out of familiarity or out of a sense of maintaining control. Our job was to weather the storm.

2. We decided on one really troublesome area—school mornings—and put our focus there.

3. We formulated a framework within which the girls could make choices and experience related, reasonable and respectful consequences. No gloating, no vengeance, absolutely no I told you so’s on our part, just a loving and calm response.

4. We chose a quiet time to sit down with our daughters to ask how they liked mornings. They didn’t. Color me surprised that they didn’t like the raving banshee their mom turned into each morning.

5. We asked if they would like to have happier mornings. They did.

6. We outlined our plan and explained they were in charge of their choices, but would experience consequences:

They could choose to eat or skip breakfast. If they skipped, they would eat at snacktime at school.

They could choose to have their school bags packed and ready or not. If they chose not, they were choosing to leave their work and supplies at home.

They could choose to get dressed or not. If not, I would bring clothes for them to daycare, where they would change out of their pajamas. (This made them giggle. “Really mom? Not get dressed?” “Yes, girls. You choose.”)

They were very enthusiastic, especially because of the promise of no yelling and the increased freedom and power to make choices.

7. To check for clarity, we asked them to explain back to us in their own words how the plan was going to work.

8. We told them we would provide any help they needed with packing, dressing, etc., set a date to start, and finished up on a positive note.


I’d like to tell you that it was all unicorns and rainbows after that, but it wasn’t.

Although our oldest had whole-heartedly agreed to the plan, she decided to test me.

To see how it all turned out, check out the video below. My now grown-up and married daughter and I talk about that morning from two decades ago, share a few laughs and pass on some insight.


At the end of the day, we know that all behavior has consequences especially because we have been on the receiving end of them—good and bad—our whole lives.

When we don’t allow our children to experience them, we are doing a tremendous disservice.

I encourage you to use this information to not just create a calmer life at home for your entire family, but to ultimately grow up more responsible members of society.

You just have to remember when you give your child a choice, just be sure to include the all-natural sides of both sweet and sour consequences. :-)


Question: Do you have a rough area you’d like to smooth out in your home? How can we help?



P.S. This is my very first time vlogging, and I apologize for the dark video. It does get lighter further along, so thanks for understanding. :-)

Sharing at NOBH, The Better Mom, Writing Wishing, Finding Heaven, PYHO

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Image from the cover of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

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  1. I do love this idea, Kim! Of giving choices to children, whether that choice may be right or wrong.
    And great vlog, you’re a natural :)
    Thank you for linking up!
    Alison recently posted…Memories Captured – November Link Up!My Profile

    • Glad you like the idea, Alison, and I wish you the best as you give those age-appropriate choices to your adorable kiddos! Thanks for your kind words.

  2. Oh boy, This definitely resonates with me. Too often my husband and I try to protect our sons from the natural consequences but they need to learn from their choices. Thank you for sharing your framework too. PS I loved that book. I think that I need to go read it again to my kids!
    Christine recently posted…Memories Captured: The RunMy Profile

    • Christine, I imagine in the days of old when we were hunter-gatherers there were serious threats from which we had to protect our children. Perhaps this is a generational behavior change…?
      Thanks so much for coming by and I hope you have success with the framework!

  3. Natural consequences are the best! But, oh so hard to do sometimes, Kim! I could totally relate to your feelings as you’re carrying your sobbing pj-clad daughter to your van! I’ve been there, done that and it is so hard for us as parents to see our kids suffer. But better to suffer from this momentary lapse in judgment and preparedness, than to have an adult daughter who still can’t get her act together! Yay! For this post, and the amazing vlog! You and your daughter did a spectacular job. You seemed like old pros!

    • Beth, it’s good to know you’ve been down this path too! You are absolutely right: small pain now rather than big pain later. Glad you enjoyed the vlog-you are too kind!

  4. I absolutely love this advice, girl!

    I think you so hit the nail on the head – knowingly or not, we try to “save” our kids from feeling consequences.

    Fabulously done! And I adore the book connection and vlog!
    Galit Breen recently posted…Tell Your StoryMy Profile

    • “Saving our kids”-oh, yes. And it doesn’t stop, no matter how old they are! Just like the toys on their Christmas list getting bigger and more expensive, the “bailouts” required get bigger too. Yet another reason to teach the wee ones early on about consequences. Thanks so much for stopping, Galit, and your very sweet words!

  5. You are so great. So great. I needed this advice today. Our mornings are the worst part of the day and I think it’s because we’ve been giving them the hypothetical “cookie.”
    hilljean recently posted…20 Mommy-Daughter Dates: Older Daughter EditionMy Profile

    • Awww, you make me blush. I feel your pain, hilljean! My chest still tightens up when I think of the millions of times I hollered to and at them to get up, get dressed, etc. Ugh. Thank goodness it was before camera phones and social sharing were invented. Just start taking those baby steps forward and keep the faith that you are doing the right thing. Then you can make fun videos with your kids later, too! :-)

  6. Oh I need to read and see your video today! What a great post. I haven’t read the book but now that you mentioned it, it’ll go on my shopping list 😀
    Maureen recently posted…Memories Captured: The Photo ShootsMy Profile

    • It’s an adorable book, so I do recommend it. Glad to be of service, and I hope you are able to put the tips to use. Good luck and happy reading, Maureen!

  7. I don’t mind giving my children choices, but they are only 2 and 4 so I could use some advice. The biggest problem with my 2 year old who will be 3 in Jan. is he blatantly ignores our reasonable requests. We tell him to come here or something even in a nice tone and he takes his sweet time or just doesn’t do it. Ugh! Help!
    My four year old is struggling with back talk and arguing…he is smart, observant and will point out if you are wrong…do I have a fourteen year old already? So Kim…yes, help me please. My mom isn’t alive to give me advice so I trust God to use wonderful mothers like you.
    Dionne recently posted…Being super honest todayMy Profile

    • You have my sympathy, Dionne! I think a lot of kids have similar issues and it can be really frustrating to deal with them. I know in our case sometimes we expected more than the age and ability of our children could do. Other times we discovered our attitudes and approaches were contributing to the problem. I would definitely get the book Positive Discipline and apply the lessons in your home. I will send you an email with some links, too. Keep the faith, and know that you can walk through this!

  8. I love seeing your sweet face! This is such a good post — I have to admit, to send my kids to school without breakfast is SO hard for me to do. But, I suppose, letting them having the consequences might be beneficial so they can see the importance of eating!
    Jen Ferguson recently posted…Sole Sisters and the Soli Deo Gloria partyMy Profile

    • I agree-it is hard. There were many days I felt like I was wearing a scarlet M for being the Meanest Mommy on the planet. When you think about it, though, Jen, we are talking about a couple of more hours before they get to eat. And it’s not about punishment and being vindictive-it’s strictly about choice.

      I would recommend letting the teacher know what you are doing so the kids don’t aren’t able to torpedo your efforts through misplaced sympathy at school. Cue rolling eyes and tummy grabbing paired with sob story about how mom just wouldn’t let them eat… not that I’ve ever heard of a child doing that…
      Thanks for coming by!

  9. What great practical advice, Kim…for some reason, I can’t access your vlog bc of Firefox…but I want to applaud you and your husband for giving your children choices and teaching them about natural consequences…it took time and effort on you & your husband to put forth a structure and plan..Way to go :)
    Dolly recently posted…Alphabet of Thanks Series: "A" is for "Always"My Profile

    • Sorry you had trouble with the site Dolly! Thanks for your kind words-that really sums up how we parent, doesn’t it? Lots of time and effort, but so worth it!

  10. Thanks Kim, for sharing these parenting tips and advice! I think it’s so true that kids need to experience the consequences of their actions, and the earlier they learn that there’s a consequence to every action, the better! So that hopefully when they reach the difficult teenage years, they will be wise enough to make the right decisions and also not succumb easily to peer pressure.

    However, like Dionne, my son is turning three real soon and things that he does that often make me shout/scold/yell at him don’t necessarily have ‘bad’ consequences – it’s often like trying to wake him up in the morning to go to school (he’s happy if he misses it) or asking him to go to bathe (he’s fine if he doesn’t get a bath). Do you have any advice for these situations? Thank you!
    Ruth recently posted…Dealing with the Mommy GuiltMy Profile

  11. Oh, Ruth, your words bring back memories from our girls’ childhood. Those battles-ugh! You can see what I said to Dionne above to start.

    Having a little time to think about it, we rarely really left enough time to move from one “activity” to another. I would expect the girls to mentally and emotionally be able to just drop what they were doing—just like me, the adult—and move onto our next step, like getting ready to leave. I would be harried as I hurried about, scolding the girls for not moving faster, I am most embarrassed to admit. I remember once being in tears when it hit me as I was yelling at them that they hadn’t asked to be born, to become part of the family, and yet I was treating them as though they were adults who had willfully joined forces with me.

    If I can offer two things, it’s learn to be patient and use lots of hugs: remember that they are little, they are learning, they are so very interested in everything, they need reassurance you love them and they need time.

    I’ll send you some links via email that might help as well. Thanks so much for coming by, and I hope this is helpful. Anyone else with tips or hints, I’d love to have you jump in!

  12. It does help to set expectations. Our mornings used to be so chaotic, but we’re getting better, too!
    Shell recently posted…I Don’t Speak for the Trees: Pour Your Heart OutMy Profile

  13. I LOVE how you’ve taken the time to consider how much your own choices or non-choices impact your family. I think it’s really critical and yet we don’t always do it. Thanks for sharing and this post has been eye-opening for me in some ways. I picked one of my stressed mama posts to include as my comment luv here, as it clicked with this post so much for me. Again, I thank you.
    Andrea recently posted…It’s so easy.My Profile

    • I am going to check out your post, Andrea. Thanks for thinking about what my readers might find helpful! I’m glad you found pieces that you can use.

  14. Thank you for this! I’m sending it to my husband. We seem to follow the same cycles in certain areas. I’m thinking it’s time for a change. Lovely to “see” you, too! The hardest part is the staying calm part. This I need to work on. Our issues are changing as my son just turned 14, but I know I need to work on the staying calm bit for sure
    lori recently posted…Close Enough to Forget: Mike McMullinMy Profile

    • Lori, thanks so much for you kind words! You remind me of me, and how I used to pass stuff on to my hubbie with notes of “hey, I think this might help!” You’ve seen that the issues change as your kids grow older, but the basics are still the same: be reasonable and respectful, and be sure any consequence is related. Good luck, and enjoy your son!

  15. LOVE the vlog, Kim! And your daughter is precious. Love the story, and it reminded me of a parenting book I referred to back in the day: Reality Discipline by Kevin Leman. You’d have gotten an A with that move!

    For the record: I would’ve TOTALLY walked my kids into day care in their PJs. Scars, schmars – everybody has ’em. And PJ scars are actually pretty cool :)
    Susan recently posted…Take Off Your BlindersMy Profile

  16. I can always count on a laugh from you, Susan. Scars, schmars. LOL.

    I am not familiar with Reality Discipline. It sounds like another great parenting book! There are a lot of good ones out there, and it really is a matter of finding one that just resonates with you and that gives practical, actionable advice that works.

    Glad you liked the vlog too. Now that I have jumped into that water, I have already thought of several other posts to do about and with both daughters. Isn’t it fun to reminisce with them and get their adult view on their childhood memories?

  17. I love, love, love this post! I love Jane Nelson’s book! I love that you were able to change mornings! This year, I did a small change of making a weekly breakfast schedule. Everyone knows what days we have what for breakfast and I can’t even tell you how much it’s improved our mornings. No more, “but I wanted thhhaaaaatttt” is heard because everyone knows that each day means a certain breakfast.

    Great post!
    Missy recently posted…Advice About Professionalism, from a Non-professionalMy Profile

    • Missy, Thanks so much for sharing how you changed your mornings! It can be done-we just have to decide that passing through that pain of change is worth what’s on the other side.
      Thanks for your words of praise. I am so grateful when other moms find use in what I share!

  18. Such a great post, Kim. I’m learning how important it is to set clear expectations. My kids can’t read my mind. :)
    adrienne recently posted…When I Want to Be a Better MomMy Profile

    • Yes, yes to clear expectations! I had lots of problems with learning to be clear. Still a work in progress. . .

      Oh, if they could only read our minds. How easy that would make things! Oh-wait. On second thought, I don’t want anyone rambling around in there. I get lost so easily. Goodness knows what would happen if my kids really got into my head. :-)

      Appreciate you coming by, Adrienne. Thanks so much!

  19. I LOVE you advice – I’m sure you know that. And I take a lot of it. This one will be no exception. But on second thought, can you just move in with me and be my 1-on-1 24/7 coach? Just asking :)
    ilene recently posted…Please People! Leave Your Negligees at Home!My Profile

    • Awwww, you are just too sweet, Ilene! You cook, I’ll coach. :-) And maybe throw in some Candy Corn for good measure. . . (Do you allow that at your house? :-) ) I respond really well to Candy Corn.

  20. Solid stuff! I think you nailed why we don’t carry out consequences as much as we should….our own pride. What will people think?! People think more kindly of a child at pre-school in p.j.s one morning than the brat we encourage by not giving consequences!
    May recently posted…Thanksgiving AnticipationMy Profile

  21. Kim, this is such great advice for parents. It took us a while to learn some of these things. With three we had to start figuring it out because like you the mornings were crazy for us. I was trying to get three out the door and me to work on time. My oldest was always the slowest but he changed after I started pulling out of the driveway one morning. I was pulling on to the road and he came running. He knew I meant business and now he is usually the first ready to go. :-)
    Melissa recently posted…Broken {Five Minute Friday}My Profile

    • Welcome to the “we get there eventually” school of parenting, Melissa. :-)
      I laughed at your description of your son. Yup. Meeting the “I mean what I say” mom is quite an eye-opening moment for the kids.
      Thanks for sharing!

  22. Okay, ouch. I did a lot of things wrong! My husband had a particularly difficult time (still does) on the natural consequences thing… I think it is more about him not wanting make them feel badly. He is the ultimate “swoop in and fix things” guy. As a result, we weren’t always on the same page, which is another ‘guilty’ for me. I wish this kind of instruction were mandatory for new parents!!
    Seana turner recently posted…A Fun Clutter QuizMy Profile

    • Seana, I wonder if it’s our nature to want to be fixers? It’s something I still fight today, even though our girls are in their mid and late twenties. Thanks for coming by!


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