I just returned home from my local supermarket. I went with the best of intensions (as I always do) to stay away from the chocolate isle, but somehow, I found myself being inexplicably drawn there. As I was assessing my options (why do they make so many delicious ones ??) I became aware of a mother and her child next to me. The little girl can’t have been older than 2 or 3 (having no children of my own I find determining ages a challenge) and her mother was very calmly explaining that she could have a small chocolate bar, appropriately sized for her age.
The little girl wanted more. She wanted the family block of Fruit & Nut (and who could blame her?) Her mother, again in a very clam tone, explained that this wasn’t an option but the little girl was not on board with this as an idea. So what do 2 year olds do when they don’t get their own way? Yep, you guessed it...
Full. On. Tantrum.
I am talking throw down on the floor, tears, screams, red face, fists pounding, the works. It was pretty phenomenal to be honest with you. I obviously tried to act like I was more interested in deciding between a Boost and a Snickers but in reality, I was pretty intrigued to find out how the mother would respond to such irrational (yet typical) 2 year old behaviour.
And what she did was this. She very calmly knelt down to her daughter and very clearly said ‘We can either stay here and cry, or go home and play with your toys. It’s your choice.’ She then sat down on the floor and waited.
The key words in that sentence were ‘It’s your choice’. She gave her daughter, even at the age of 2, a choice. She gave her the option and therefore the power to create her destiny.
And this got me thinking about choice.
To have choice is to have power. We can chose to be fit and healthy or sit on the sofa. We can choose to be happy or sad (yes, this really is true! If you’re interested in controlling your state, please get in touch with me) We can choose to spend our money on a new car or a holiday. The world is full of choice. Some of these choices are hard, some are easy. Some we enjoy making, some we’d rather not make. Some don’t even appear to be choices. The interesting thing about choice is that without it, we feel totally powerless.
What the mother did with this child is give her back some of the power that she had originally denied her (rightly so) when she took away her ability to choose the family sized Fruit & Nut bar. Suddenly the 2 year old had a choice to make and therefore, had regained some power. And sure enough, after 20 seconds or so (long enough for me to decide I was going to choose a Boost) the 2 year old stopped her tantrum, her mother stood up, and the two of them went to play with toys.
At that time, I also made a choice. I put the Boost bar back and went to the fruit and veg isle. I chose to make the decision that would be best for my body.
Someone once said to me that depression is the illusion of lack of choice. So often I find clients come to me with unresourceful behaviour (self-sabotage, procrastination etc.) and feeling anxious or fearful. And often it stems from a perception that something didn’t turn out the way they thought it would and that they don’t have the power of choice.
The 2 year old perfectly illustrates this. She wanted something that she couldn’t have (Fruit & Nut). This made her feel like she had no choice so she had a tantrum (unresourceful behaviour). When her mother pointed out that she had a choice to stay in that state or move to something better, the child suddenly had control and chose to move to a more resourceful way of being.
You can’t always control life (no you can’t have a family sized Fruit and Nut bar) but you can control how you react to it. Have a tantrum or play with toys. The choice is yours. See the choices, find the control. If you need some guidance to work out where those choices might be, you know where I am.