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Episode 45

Teaching children how to manage the power of free will

September 5, 2022

[Kyle]: In today's podcast we're going to talk about choices. You have them, they have them, let's talk about what to do with them. So, looking forward to having that conversation.


[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 45 of The Art of Raising Humans. I’m Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara.

[Kyle]: And today we want to hit the topic of choices. Man, we have so many in our lives, right? I mean.

[Sara]: We do.

[Kyle]: Goodness, there's so many choices.

[Sara]: That’s how life is.

[Kyle]: Yes, it's just like a lot and sometimes they're very stressful, right? Choices are-- Can be really stressful.

[Sara]: Especially depending on your personality.

[Kyle]: You know, before we get into talking about this more deep, about choices and the importance of kind of guiding your kids with choices is, I want to make sure our listeners know about something that we're trying to do this fall series. This next fall and spring we really want to get into more speaking opportunities, you know? In the past before the pandemic hit, there were several opportunities that we had, where we got to go to different churches or schools or other kind of small groups and do speaking engagement. So, I just wanted to tell our listeners that's something that we're looking to do. We've already got three or four scheduled for this fall and we're looking to maybe do a couple a month, where we can really help different size groups of people, you know? So, whether it's a church or a school or like a smaller group of people, you might reach out to us, you know?

[Kyle]: Feel free to email us at info and you can find in the web that-- That email on our website and would love to if you have a request, just shoot it to us and we'll see if we can make that happen. Because really our heart in doing this podcast is to reach as many people as possible.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, we wanna-- I always feel like I’ve been gifted this information and it's made such a difference in our parenting and our relationship and we love to spread that, share that with everyone we can.

[Kyle]: Exactly. We've been spoiled with some great information and been able to be mentored by some really great people in this field, so we want to give that back. So, we'd love for you to reach out there. Also on the website, what you'll see is video trainings we've done in the past and that you can purchase there, to really deepen into understanding, one, is on conflict and how to resolve conflict in your family and the other one, if you've got a teenager, it's a fantastic one, going into the school year, about how to understand and communicate with your teenager. So, both of those are there as well, okay?

[Kyle]: So, there's some choices for you, right? We just gave-- We just gave you some choices, fantastic. Okay. So, Sara, I want to talk about choices and this idea of free will. I mean, what do you think about when you think about giving kids choices? Why give them choices? I mean, don't we know what's best for them?

[Sara]: We might actually.

[Kyle]: We might, that’s true.

[Sara]: Maybe not every single time, but a lot of times we probably do have a pretty good idea.

[Kyle]: That's true, yes, and even if I don't, I think I do.

[Sara]: Yeah, that's-- Yeah, a little hard to tell which is which, right?

[Sara]: But yeah, this topic obviously I think is one that really impacted our parenting and the way that we approached our children and I think it's-- For me it's even-- It's more about that what I just said, that internal viewpoint that we have, that's why I think this topic is so important, because it's all how I view my child and our relationship changes how I approach my child. So, I think this one's really important, because it's an internal thing I have to deal with, that's going to then impact the way I come to my child in these moments of conflict or even just everyday life.

[Sara]: And it starts young, I think you hear about that. You know, if you have a little strong-willed three-year-old or something, give them choices. Do they want to wear their red shirt or the blue shirt?

[Sara]: Sure, but the whole point of it is there is this-- I think it's out there a little bit, give your kids choices. But I think what we're talking about is just a little bit more than that, a little bit big picture.

[Kyle]: Yeah, little big picture and we may-- I want to do a subsequent podcast about getting into specifically those little choices, but I definitely want to get the big framework, because I really love-- You know, we first kind of thought about this with Dr. Becky Bailey's stuff in “Conscious discipline”, where she talks about choices and she talks about the overarching idea, is that the only one you can make change is you.

[Kyle]: I mean, I think that was a big idea for us, right? Because I don't think-- I don't think growing up we thought that. I thought for sure-- Especially I know for me, I thought if I got big enough and mad enough and you know, determined enough, sure, I can make people change, right? I mean, you even see in the road in traffic, when people get mad at each other they're yelling at each other, flipping each other off, trying to make each other change, you know? I remember, Sara, you and I had a funny conversation early on when you noticed how aggressive a driver I could be. Like and it would come out of my mouth of like-- You'd be like, you know, “I need to teach that person a lesson”, you know? and I remember you saying “do you think they want to learn from you? Do you think they're really--?” and I was like “oh, I don't know if they do, but I’m going to make them learn from me. So, when they cut me off, I’m going to get around and I’m going to like-- Or I’m gonna get really close to their tail and make them go faster” and there's all these like, ways in which I was behaving that definitely showed I didn't believe that was true. I didn't believe the only person I could make change was me and actually, I thought the hardest person to make change was me. I thought it was easier to make other people change, right?

[Kyle]: And I think that's what's so, so, so sneaky about that idea is, I think at times we can look back and it seemingly looks like people made us change or it looks like we successfully made other people change. I mean, can't you see that sometimes?

[Sara]: Yeah, that's-- Yeah. So, I like that about this, because you have to take ownership of your own control of your life and then also realize kind of like, big light bulb moment “oh, my child is actually even at a younger age, they are-- They make their choices for their life”.

[Sara]: And it does feel like we're controlling people we're puppets and puppet masters or we're being the puppy, but that's actually not true. We may bend for a moment or something, but you can't actually make another person change.

[Kyle]: Well, and you and I get to experience that a lot with working with parents is, they come from both angles. Sometimes you can see they think they can make that kid change and yet, other times they think that kid is doing it to them, you know? So, they live in this world of where-- And what I noticed for me, Sara, was when I tried to “make people change” was when I felt the most out of control, you know? When I felt like I couldn't change myself. So, I think what I was taught and modeled as a kid, was you change your surroundings, you change those around you, change your setting, change the people in that moment and then, there'll be this inward change from the outward change.

[Kyle]: And so, in hearing Becky Bailey talk about this, it was like a total paradigm shift of like “wait a second, I’m feeling so angry about this because I feel helpless to change me, so then I’m trying to change this little kid”. You know, I’ll never forget when I worked in the public school system, a pre-k teacher brings a four-year-old into my office and I’m trying to eat lunch, I’m just trying to hang out there, you know? Just taking a break. But the teacher brings the kid, “Jesus, I’ve had enough of this, I cannot do this any longer with him” and just walked out and what I saw in the kids’ face was a little bit of confusion, but also a little bit of like, pride. Because he was like “wow, look at me” and I did sit there and think “that it's interesting, that this teacher went to school, you know, got an education in college to teach kids this age and yet, this four-year-old has control over her and she believes it”. Like she really believes “I cannot--”. Because she was thinking “if I can't control him, then he's controlling me”.

[Sara]: And I think parents, families, we slip into that all the time. Either I’m going to control my child or my child's going to control me and that immediately sets up this resistance, this you against me. It's not us together doing something, it's a “oh no, I better be in control or they're going to be in control” and you're instantly in a battle and that kind of that seeps into all parts of your life together, all parts of your relationship. If you have the mentality of “someone here is going to be in charge, someone here is going to be in control and I’d better make sure it's me”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, “there's going to be a winner, there's going to be a loser” and Sara, what I think is so powerful about the parenting and I hope all the people listening to these podcasts who have who have kids is, there's so many opportunities throughout the day with these interactions with the kids, to either reinforce the lie that one of us has to control the other or reinforce the truth, which is “the only one I can change is me”, right? And so, the kids really give you an opportunity that as we have done this with the kids’ time and time again, I found I stopped doing it with other people in my life, right?

[Kyle]: I stopped believing I could do it to the co-workers I had, I stopped believing I could do it in traffic, I stopped believing I could do it almost everywhere, right? And I started going back to “wait, change begins with me, not with them” and so, that's where Becky Bailey kind of frames it in this idea of as parents, in every moment of our day, not just with our kids, every moment, you have two choices. Two choices, you can accept what is and look for solutions or you can resist what is and look for more problems and I knew I definitely fell in the second one, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, and that changes the moment, every moment you're engaged in, right? If you're thinking “okay, this is the moment I’m in and, what am I going to do in this moment?”, versus the other, the other frame of mind sets up battles and fights and you can just--

[Kyle]: Exactly, it does.

[Sara]: I feel like you walk in a room and you can feel it. If there's been an argument, you can feel that's the space everybody's in, versus “oh, okay, my child doesn't want to put on their shoes” or “they don't want to do their homework” and if I accept that moment, the child feels the energy just drop down. I put in my-- >You can't see my hand, but you can feel--

[Kyle]: I can see it, it looks great.

[Sara]: You can feel that energy just drop down and it freezes everyone up to do something different, but it starts with you.

[Kyle]: Yeah. You remind me when you're saying that, I didn't put this in the notes, but you made me think of a time where Abby and I were in the room together, she was maybe like eight years old, maybe nine and we're having kind of a serious conversation, but-- So, I probably was a little stressed by the conversation, a little frustrated, I guess, by the conversation. So, when Brennan came in, he was maybe six and I remembered that Abby had said she was kind of frustrated with Brennan about something in her room, she wanted him to take out. So, he came in, I immediately said “hey, Brennan, we're talking, okay? Get that out of her room and take it out” and Brennan felt what you just felt, like he was like “what did I just walk into?”. Like-- So, Brennan looked at me and he just paused and was staring at me and because I was in this mode of “I’m going to resist what is and I’m only going to see problems”. So, him not moving like that, you know, his pause immediately made me go “he's not doing what I said”.

[Kyle]: So, I looked at him said “Brennan, you hear what I said? I said pick that up right now” and I just upped the energy, I upped it, right? And I basically was saying “you only have one choice, dude, and your only choice is do what I said”, you know? And he even more was like, just frozen because he was so confused and then, I for a second, I thought “okay, I’m gonna keep my mouth shut, but I am going to make him do this” and I like, just stared at him and I just was-- I felt like I literally was trying to use the force on him. Like I was-- I was like a jedi.

[Sara]: You will walk away--

[Kyle]: Yes, I was like, using the force and we're just-- Literally we stared at each other for probably like, 10 seconds and then I thought to myself “wait, what am I doing? Am I really trying to intimidate my son? Is that what I’m doing? Oh, big bad Kyle, you're going to intimidate your son. So, now I’m going to smile for a moment, I’m going to choose something--”. So, I smiled and then he smiled back and then we laughed and I said “dude, that was weird, wasn't it?”. He said “that was weird” and Abby said “I didn't even know what was happening, it was so weird” and Brennan just said “you were just looking at me” and like “I know, did you feel me try to like, move you with my mind?” and he's like “I didn't know what was happening”. Then we kind of talked through it and I said “hey, when you leave the room, grab that stuff”. He grabbed it, he left, it was no problem.

[Kyle]: but it was like “oh, I slipped into this moment of just like, I’m gonna make him pick it up and take it and I don't care how much energy I have to get to throw at him, but I’m gonna make him move” and the fact that he wasn't moving was just upsetting me so much, because--

[Sara]: Well, you were already in the part of your brain that was upset.

[Sara]: So, it is-- And that's-- I think that's a good awareness, right? Because we're more likely to fall into that “you're controlling me” or “I’m controlling you” in this situation, if we are in a real emotional part, if we're in the amygdala, you know? If we're not in the prefrontal cortex.

[Sara]: It's much harder, but that's where you have to take a moment and I know we're not going to get into techniques, but take that moment to go “oh, wait, I’m in control of me in this moment. I can accept this moment; we can find solutions in this moment”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yes, “This moment isn't an emergency--”

[Kyle]: You know, I also wrote down the sentence here and I really resonate this when I was a kid is, when we resist them, they feel the only choice left for them is to oppose us. I mean, I really-- It seems like I’m not giving them a choice, you know? So, I mean, like this idea of choices is-- It kind of goes back, Sara, to this big idea that you and I believe and so, the listeners can buy into this or not. We believe that kids have free will, you know? That kids actually-- I don't give them freedom and I don't take freedom away. Would you agree with that?

[Sara]: I agree, yeah.

[Kyle]: And I just-- If you're listening to this, I’d encourage you think about that. Do you-- I think too many times parents run into the problems with this skill in particular, because they really believe they take and give freedom and they aren't. Now, you can limit--

[Sara]: I think it's scary to think that your kids have free will.

[Sara]: I mean, if we really own it, we think “oh no, but then what are they going to do with that free will!?” It's the part of us that loves them and almost wishes they didn't have the free will, so we could protect them from things in life.  It's hard to accept that it’s given in their life that they have free will.

[Kyle]: Well, that’s goes back-- I think it goes back to what we said that we know what's best for them too, right?

[Sara]: Right

[Kyle]: That if I-- If they do have free will, they might choose things that are really harmful to them and they might.
[Sara]: Maybe we did in our past and we want to save them from similar mistakes.

[Kyle]: Yes, that’s true. So good, yeah, yeah. Protect them from that, yeah. So, if I could reword it, the kids have free will, they can do whatever they want, but we as parents can limit their ability to express it, right? So, we can limit it by our proximity, by access, you know, all that kind of stuff. So, you definitely can limit the way they express it.

[Sara]: Yeah, we're not saying just like “Go! Be free, children!”

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, but even then, you do it all the time. Like with a little baby, you limit the baby's free will by walking around with the little baby or the little toddler, so they don't go put their head in the toilet or they don't pick up something and eat it, like a Lego. I mean, you walk around and you limit their free will by limiting their access to things that could be harmful, similar to like, phones or social media. So, there are ways you limit it, but don't buy into the lie that you actually give it or take it. Because then if you have that power, you become the enemy, you become the one they have to relentlessly like, annoy the snot out of until you give--

[Sara]: You're the gatekeeper of my freedom.

[Kyle]: Exactly! Yes! And so, it said--

[Sara]: Even if their behavior maybe it looks like they comply, when you get internally with their thoughts and their feelings and their hearts, so to speak, that doesn't necessarily-- Even though the external looks like maybe you're succeeding in controlling them, the internal, well--

[Kyle]: Totally, and so many teenagers that we talk to, I’ll ask them-- You know, “hey, what grades did you get?” and they “I got A all grades”. “That's great, yeah, I mean-- So, I mean, was that you really proud of that?”. “Well, I just did it, because if I didn't, I get in trouble, you know? Like if I get B's or C’s my parents get really mad”. So, I’m like, “you don't even have the freedom to choose to get good grades?”, “no, I have to get good grades”, “that stinks, you know? So, then you don't even get to feel the joy of getting them?”. He’s like “no, I’m just happy I didn't get in trouble or I get grounded, you know? The only reason why I did my homework, because I’d get in trouble if I didn't, you know? Or the only reason why I helped my brother or sister is because mom and dad would get mad if I didn't” and so, what we end up doing is we end up even on the good things, which is what I find tends to happen. If from a young age we've not been respecting the choices they have and understanding they had free will the whole time, then they grow up and they’re teenagers who think all the good things they did was because you made them.

[Sara]: Yeah, a lot of times-- I didn't hit because if I hit them, then I would get--

[Kyle]: Exactly, yeah, yeah. I wanted to hit them, but I didn't because I’d get in trouble.

[Sara]: And how much more is it would you hope for your children to get good grades, because they're choosing to not hit because they know it would hurt that person and the kindness that's inside of them doesn't-- Yeah, you lose all of that, because it was done via-- Just by a threat or a whatever that felt like it was controlling--

[Kyle]: So, I really love this and this is helpful to-- So, I’m going-- I do want to give the listeners something really practical to think about and then we can get in-- Maybe in a few episodes we'll do a subsequent specific stuff, but the question that I think was really transformational, you know, is a lot of parenting techniques, a lot of parenting philosophies, when you read books about them, the question they're all trying to answer is, how do I get my child to do X, Y and Z? So, whatever that is, how do I get them to do it? You know? And I know many times even parents that we help, they'll go and talk to other parents like “well, what was the consequences? Did they tell you what to do when they did X, Y and Z? Or when they did this?”. Like, and it's all an attempt of, how do I make my kid become this human I’d like to become? You know?

[Kyle]: And so, you'll hear a lot of that language, how do I make them clean the room? How do I make them do their homework? How do I get them, okay?

[Sara]: Because if I give them the-- If I give them the freedom--

[Kyle]: The choice, yeah.

[Sara]: Then they're not going to do it.

[Kyle]: Exactly, they'll only choose if I make them or get them to. So, I love how in Becky Bailey's thought process, she changes that question and that to-- When you change this question, it completely changes how you approach the situation. So, she changes the question to, how do I help my child be more likely to choose X, Y and Z? You know? And in there, what she's trying to do is inherently connect with the truth, that I can't get my kid or make my kid do anything, right?

[Kyle]: Even if it looks, like you said, even if it looks like they complied and it looks like I did, no, they always chose. They always chose.

[Kyle]: You know, there are kids that don't care how much you threaten them, they say “I’m gonna do it”, you know? And that's really frustrating to a lot of parents, but those kids are saying “you can't get me or make me to do it”. So, the goal for me from the time they're 0 to 18, is to teach them how to take this gift, this free will, this powerful, powerful gift. How to take that and use it to really bring more good and more light and just more, you know, awesomeness to this world and the way you do this from the time they're born, to the time they leave your house and on, is you're constantly asking yourself “how do I help my child be more likely to choose?”.

[Sara]: You actually want to recognize their freedom, their free will and you want them to know they have their free will, so that they can spend those 18 years practicing how to use the free will that they have. I love-- I love that and then put the supports in there, how-- You know, what she said like, getting-- Instead of making them do it or getting them to do it, how can I help support them? What supports can I put in place? What skills do I need to teach them? How can I give them what they need to use their free will?

[Kyle]: Totally, yes, yeah. Well, and this totally goes back to this idea we just hit upon in the last couple of episodes, about school and starting the school year off, right? It's-- I love the word co-creating, that it's really the idea of choices is in everything I do with my kid, if I’m being honest with myself, I am co-creating that with my kid, I am not making them do anything and the sooner they know that, the sooner they know that I’m not making them, the sooner they know I’m not getting them to do it, the sooner they can start equipping themselves to empower themselves in any given moment, you know? Even from a moment like, they're about to take a test and they're really anxious about that test. They don't have to let the anxiety overwhelm them, you know? They have a choice. Anxiety doesn't make them do anything, right? Or even like, in a silly way I’m thinking of all those conflicts when we were growing up, where some kid “fell in love” with somebody, right? And they just like “I have to see her, I have to talk to him”, you know? This kind of-- “You don't have to!” Like--

[Kyle]: But a kid who thinks their whole life is dictated to them by either the adults in their life or the feelings they have, then they're just powerless, right? And so, I think a lot of listeners can really resonate with that, that too much in our culture-- We're counselors, so we love to talk about feelings, I think feelings are super important and I think in most people's lives they don't listen to them enough, but you are not a victim to them, feelings do not control you, you know? You have a choice what you do with feelings, you can sit with them, observe them and accept them or you can resist them and wish they just go away, right? But you are not controlled by them and so, from a time that they're little all the way up to-- You're not only helping them express their freedom with their actions, but freedom with their thoughts, freedom with their feelings, freedom with their behaviors, all those kinds of ways, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, it changes your life if you grow up thinking “oh, I have free will and I will choose-- I can choose my path”. Yeah, you're not tossed around by your friends, by peer pressure, by teachers, by coaches, by feelings, by all the things in life that we do think control. Money.

[Kyle]: Yeah. Oh, that’s good.

[Sara]: All these things that we think do control us, our bosses in life. But if we actually grow up, what a difference that would be thinking “okay, I have free will, what am I going to do with it? How am I going to exercise my choices? Did I like the choice I made? Do I--”. You know, “how would I change that to feel like you're steering your ship?”. But your life the whole time it's just a very different way of walking through life, than believing that things are tossing you about here and there and you're just reacting to them.

[Kyle]: Totally. Yeah, I love that, you are, yeah. I was thinking of as you're speaking, I was thinking of a leader with youth, he worked with youth a lot and he was telling me how he can with the groups he works with, he can almost predict which kids are going to go crazy in college. And those, the kids that seemingly had never had a choice, you know? They were told they had to go to church, they had to get the A's, you know, whatever the thing is, the kid feels like they had to do and then when the kid goes to college, the lie they believe is “now I’m free” and-- But the truth is they really-- They have always been free, they just haven't had a lot of opportunities to manage that freedom in a healthy way, you know? It's always been controlled for them, so then when they get to the college, they end up coming to counseling eventually, because they've made a lot of dumb decisions. Decisions that they could have made when they were six, seven, eight, nine and had a lot less serious consequence, but now they're flunking out of school or they've got an issue with alcohol or all these kinds of ways where they just thought--

[Sara]: They didn't get to learn how to manage the free will that they had, yeah.

[Kyle]: Yeah, because-- And then my freedom is just do whatever your impulses tell you to do, when that's actually not freedom, freedom is actually self-control, it's the ability to want to do something and say “is that the best for me to do right now?”, you know? And that's really where-- People who are living truly free lives are people who are self-disciplined, have self-control, you know? They don't let the box of donuts tell them they've got to eat a dozen donuts, they look at the donuts and say “I like donuts and I’m going to have one of those today, but I don't think I need 11 more”, you know? But the person without the self-control, just go-- And then I’m thinking of the other kid though, the other kids who they maybe they didn't go crazy in college, but they're trying to figure out their path and they don't have any idea how to do that.

[Kyle]: And they're super anxious about it, because the freedom of choosing that--

[Sara]: Everyone else was always telling me what to do and now I’m supposed to suddenly know how to do that for myself, and you don't know how because you didn't get to do it all the way growing up, you didn't get to test things out and make mistakes or walk through those decisions with someone right beside you. You want to let your kids make those choices and you're there with them. “Oh, how'd you like that choice you made?”

[Sara]: And be with them in it before it's high stakes.

[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, and even-- I hope you heard even what Sara just said and we could, once again in another podcast, we're not talking about making good choices/bad choices, you know? We're not just putting them in-- We're not putting them in these two categories. Choices have a wide range of results and so, sometimes parents they do that, where they'll talk about “was that a good choice or a bad choice”, you know? I don't think every choice falls in those categories. So, it's really just “did you like that choice? Did you like the outcome you got?”, right? “If you didn't, what choices could you make?”. So, we'll talk about further, but the main ideas here, that I hope our listeners come away with is, one, the only person I can make change is me. Number two, in every situation I have two choices to make or you know, one choice to make. Either I accept what is and look at solutions or I resist what is and I look at all the problems, and then the third one is changing the question from “how do I get my child to do X, Y and Z?”, to “how do I help my child be more likely to choose X, Y and Z?”.

[Kyle]: So, I hope that's really helpful, I think we gave you a lot to chew on. I know this is a skill that we still every day are working on in our own personal lives, in our marriage, with our parenting and it's so freeing to get better at it. That I don't have to live a life that's constantly controlled by my external circumstances, every opportunity is an opportunity to choose, okay? So, we'd love your feedback, love for you to go to the podcast. Rate us five stars, it would be awesome. Would love more and more people, the audience is growing. Please share this with your friends and stuff. I really think this is gold for some-- For many, many families to hear this stuff, so please share it, turn them on to The Art of Raising Humans. We really want to help as many families as possible. So, we thank you for your time and I hope you're having a wonderful day and we'll talk to you soon.

[Sara]: Thanks for listening.

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