Limited Choices with a Side of Connection

June 30, 2011 at 9:32 pm (General, Positive Discipline)

We spent the day traveling yesterday.  By “traveling,” I mean transporting myself, two children, and our immediate possessions a distance of 1,700 miles, and by “day” I mean a period of 8 hours.  The time from the moment we left my parents’ house in Minnesota to the time we arrived at our house in Oregon felt like about 3 extremely-condensed days’ worth of activity.  Not all of those 8 hours felt like actual traveling (certainly not the time we spent in the security line at the Minneapolis airport), though I guess they were since our bodies were nearly always in some state of forward motion.

JJ checks out things on the ground with his binoculars.

In our 40 minutes of minutive movement in the security line, I was able to study what I call the “FYI” photos of the full-body scan that some travelers are asked to undergo.

FYI, you may be asked to step into this machine and raise your arms so that we can scan you from head to toe and see what’s under your clothes.  FYI, we can’t see your private parts.  Not really.  Just to show you, here’s an example some of photos that show what we see when we look at the monitors.

The faces are blurred for privacy.  FYI, they’re not really blurred in the real-life scan, only this photo because it’s on display.

Oh, and FYI, this is optional!  If the idea of this scan makes you uncomfortable, you may choose an alternative security check;  it would be a full-body pat-down.  We find that if people aren’t comfortable with the under-the-clothes scan, they’re a lot more comfortable having their body physically probed.

Just FYI.

Although none of us were selected for a scan or the alternative (if you so choose) pat-down yesterday, I personally have experienced both before, as have both my kids.  The security officials try to give you a choice in the matter (scan vs. pat-down) and make sure you’re “OK” during the process (“I’m going to put my hand right here on your chest, OK?”  What’s the right answer here?  Umm, “OK.”), but once they ask you to step aside for further inspection, not complying is not an option.  Not if you want to keep moving forward and get where you’re going.

There’s nothing like airport security to invoke a sense of powerlessness.

It gave me a perspective of what children must feel like when there’s something that has to get done…cleaning up, brushing teeth, getting dressed, getting in the car….and we parents try to give them some choice in the outcome.  “Do you want to put the books away or pick up the legos?  Which toothpaste would you like to use?  Do you feel like wearing the red shirt or the blue one today?  Do you want to walk, run, or hop to the car?”  This is a standard tool in positive discipline; limited choices.  But I sure didn’t like my experience with limited choices at the airport.  I didn’t want either choice; I didn’t want to do it!

I realized one important element was missing: connection.

Airport Security Guy and I?  We didn’t connect.  There was no eye contact, no commiseration, no empathetic statements of how much it stinks to go through security, no inquiries about my day or comments on my cute kids.  Security Guy was focused and professional, but his stoic politeness was a poor substitute for genuine kindness in a situation in which I was very unhappy.  Had he made any attempt to connect with me, I would have wanted to be friendly and compliant; to make his day brighter and his job just a little bit easier.  As it happened, I felt angry and inconvienenced, and Security Guy neither understood nor cared.

At least I know first-hand how important in-the-moment connection is, and I can give my kids that when they don’t want to do something that is, quite simply, required.

Empathy, compassion, kindness.  They are tremendously important if we’re to work together with our kids and move from unhappy compliance to willing cooperation.  And, hey, not just children, but us grown-ups, too, right?  As I realized, these elements help us want to do what’s necessary, as they connect us on a very human level.


  1. valleygirl said,

    Wow….I admit that at first reading this I wondered how in the world one could possibly connect security at the airport with raising children…I mean the choices are completely and utterly different, like comparing apples and oranges…and yet as I continued reading your words rang in my heart as the light of truth was exposed through them. What a GREAT realization! I am sure that some would argue on the side of “Well kids need to learn that sometimes you simply don’t have an option and obedience is required” and there is definitely some truth to that. Had you not been “obedient” things would have taken longer and there very well might have been some unpleasant consequences. But then on the flip side because our children WILL be forced to comply as adults in situations they have no control over….why not give them the love and empathy and kindness they crave and desire in their HOME….a place they will forever remember as safe and warm….a place they will run to when the cold world turns them away or runs them down….a place where their mothers arm are forever welcoming and forgiving, unlike the cruel world around them. To sum up what I’m trying to get at….GREAT POST! 🙂

  2. Dawn Bauman said,

    I lean more to the obedience side. Choices are fine. Sometimes. Giving children choices ALL day long makes them think they are in charge ALL the time. Now, I am not disputing ValleyGirl or the post. But it is the parent’s job to be the authority. Sometimes that authority lets the child have choices. Sometimes, the child needs to obey because the authority said so. Yes, be sympathetic. Yes, be gentle and polite and kind. Children must learn that there are times when choices can be made and times when obedience is mandatory.

    • Kelly said,

      True, there are plenty of times that kids need to do things about which there really is no room for negotiation. I usually find there is *some* way to allow children to have a say in how the task gets accomplished. Offering limited choices can make the required task get done quickly by making it more enjoyable for kids…or they could just end up overwhelming them. Parents can of course decide when it’s best to use the Limited Choices tool.

      But this post was mostly about connection…about the importance of including the element of personal/ emotional connection when we have to do something we don’t really enjoy, wouldn’t have chosen to do, and about which we have no input. Just a little bit of empathy along the lines of, “Yeah, that stinks. It’s not very fun, and I know how you feel,” can go a long way towards helping kids move from feeling unwilling and defensive to cooperative.

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