Restriction is a type of covert encouragement. However trusting doesn’t mean giving free reign, instead it is teaching children to learn how to manage themselves.
Grandma brings her three year old grandson into a grocery store, the store owner brings out a plate of candy for the child to choose from — in Germany, almost every shop and clinic will have candy provided for children at any time. The child shakes his head saying: “No thank you.” The store owner thinking they misheard, asks again, but the child says: “I don’t want it, I have some at home.”
It’s not because the child was told by adults to not eat candy from strangers; almost all children will happily receive this kind of small present. It’s also not because the child doesn’t like to eat sweets, he is mesmerized by the taste of chocolate. Neither is it because he was warned by adults that today he has eaten too many; just the opposite, adults told him, you can eat it whenever you wish.
Grandma told me this story to exchange methods for disciplining children. Her daughter has three children who all love to eat chocolate, sometimes uncontrollably. Recently, the mother called her children together, and took them to look at a drawer. Wow, the drawer was filled with many chocolates and candy. The mother said, these are the most delicious chocolates and candies for all of you to eat, once finished mother will put more in. You can eat as much as you want, but there are just two conditions: one, is you must wash your hands before you eat the chocolate; two, is when your stomach is really hungry, you must first eat rice and then eat the chocolate.
The children agreed to the two conditions. A few days later, the mother happily discovered that the chocolates in the drawer had not decreased much, the sweets that the children had eaten was less than before. This is the result of trusting children’s self-management.
Of course, in regards to those who have not established a trust relationship with their parents from a young age, when it comes to nurturing the ability to self-manage, this method won’t get instant results for these children. Even so, the thing parents must do for children, is to give even more trust, rather than more restrictions. To a great degree, restriction is a type of covert encouragement. However, trusting doesn’t mean giving free reign, instead it is teaching children to learn how to manage themselves.
One day my daughter told me that, in her kindergarten she is the “Champion Rice Eater” — when people ate one portion, she would eat three portions. Perhaps it was because at the time I thought of the Chinese word “rice bucket”, an evil grin came onto my face, afterwards my daughter vigorously resisted this “honor”. However, it was a fact that she could eat a lot ever since young. Fortunately, she didn’t grow plump because of this. I think the main benefit was due to two factors: one, she loved exercise, and two, the control she had for sweets.
Regarding the lifestyle of children in Germany, this is not an easy task. Many people believe that German dishes are hard to eat, but no one can deny that the sweets here are very delicious. Someone once joked that Germans are able to endure such tasteless food because they can enjoy the sweet desserts after. In fact, chocolate is everywhere here. My daughter has never finished eating the chocolates and candies from various festivals or presents.
Just like the majority of children, my daughter likes eating candy and chocolate. From the age of two, she had her own chocolate jar, which has never been empty. From the beginning we told her, each day you can only eat one from among any of the sweets: including candy, chocolate, ice cream, and sweet snack biscuits, cakes and bread. The chocolate jar was usually placed somewhere she could reach, she could decide herself when to eat it. However, once she broke the agreement, the jar would disappear, appearing again on the second or even third day. Generally she was able to keep to the agreement. When she wanted to eat a little more, she wouldn’t directly break the rules, but rather come to her parents to discuss: “Can we change the agreement a little?”
Beside the pool was an automated vending machine that she liked to buy chocolate from. We agreed, she could only buy once in two visits. She would always remember to only buy when she should. Sometimes when mother was in a cheerful mood, she would find a reason and say, today originally I shouldn’t buy, but I will treat you to one. She would bashfully reply: “Well…ok then.”
A friend gave a box of Christmas calendar chocolates, where you would eat a piece each day starting from December 1st right up to Christmas eve. After receiving it my daughter said, I don’t need to eat this much chocolate, let’s change it to eating one piece per week. I agreed. A few weeks later, she understood a little more about the meaning of this calendar, saying: “This is a Christmas gift, I will still eat one piece per day, and finish it quickly.” I thought she had a point, and also agreed, but I reminded her she couldn’t eat other sweets.
Children of course will not always stick to the rules. In reality, there were many times my daughter thought of breaking the rules. Most of the time she would think of ways to change or re-explain the rules. For example she would say, today is a special occasion so can I eat one more sweet? Or say, my friend is visiting, can I eat as much as I want to eat? Most of the time these reasons would be approved. However some reasons were not justifiable, for example “I will definitely eat my rice properly if I eat it before”, would be turned down. Sometimes she would even get into a temper, deliberately breaking the rules, I would often tell her it doesn’t matter, it’s understandable that children fall into a mood, but tomorrow you won’t be able to eat it, the day after tomorrow will return to normal.
At times, she would say: “Even though today I have eaten one sweet, but I still want to eat it now.” If she wasn’t in a mood, and not in any other uncontrollable state, I would consider it as her body automatically sending out signals (maybe for a period of time eating few sweets), and agree to let her eat one or two more.
Don’t distrust children’s ability to manage themselves. In regards to food and drink, at least in my household, my daughter’s self management ability is no less than her parents. I believe that even if I tell her, eat as much chocolate as you want, there will not be any major problems.
(The author is a freelance contributor)