My infant gets a lot of personal choice

I’ve been thinking a lot about choices lately, inspired in part by a whole slew of events:

  • On my mommy group, we had a really interesting conversation about breastfeeding and personal choice.
  • On my post about training and babies, Grace made a good point about teaching the “why” behind the “what.”
  • I started feeding my kid “real food.”
  • My baby started making his opinions clear. (He’s always been a good communicator, but lately he’s telling us what he wants or thinks, not just what he needs.)

I have a hang-up about us “bigger people” making other creatures do things they don’t want to. I can’t stand it when my husband pushes the dogs outside if they don’t want to go. I have a really hard time if I have to force something up on my son, good for him though it may be. I abhor “telling” my work peeps what to do; anytime I do, I feel like a jerk.

All of this sounds normal and balanced, but it really is a hang up probably caused by being a nine-year old without any control over a really emotional (they all are) divorce situation. Even when I have no choice, I will choose to do the thing that seems to be the only option, because there are always other options, even silly ones. Not choosing the silly ones is a choice, after all.

So, back to the parenting piece: I do little things automatically that reinforce my son’s option to choose. Sure, he really can’t avoid being lifted up by his feet so I can shove a diaper under his booty, but I warn him (“Up!”) and give him a chance to brace himself before I do it. And shower time requires that his head go under the shower spray, but again, he is warned and allowed to react however he chooses.

This, I think, is why I don’t consider it odd or limiting to “train” my kid like I train my dogs. The dogs are always given a choice. They can comply and get something in return (usually a treat while they’re learning) or not and miss out on the treat. To me, this is the essence of “positive training,” that if you choose something, you know what you get in return, and that informs your (their) decision.

For the same reason, I never ask the dogs to do something they don’t want to do without a “fair trade.” No doing so forces them to choose between their own desires and compliance and that sucks. If they need a bath and don’t wanna go, I walk over to them and lead them rather than asking, and when they get there, they get something. If they won’t walk next to me, they get some form of treat until they make it there, but each step is a choice.

I know this makes me sound like a sucker, but I’m not. I just offer options and they choose which way they want to go. And if they choose the “wrong” option, they get the expected response from me… which sounds really bad, but really isn’t. If they choose not to go outside when I ask, they a) lose out on the treat and b) get body-blocked into going.

So, back to the baby: we’re experimenting with non-formula food, and, true to form, I’m pretty firm about the little things I do and don’t want in the experience. I do not want to be the one pushing food into his mouth while he learns to deal. It’s his mouth so it’s his choice. With mushy food, then, I put it on the spoon, make a brrrrr sound (this is his warning), and when he opens his mouth – if he opens his mouth – I touch the food to his lips. He decides if he wants to lean in and eat it.

We’re also experimenting with baby-led weaning to pretty good success. He is surprisingly good at eating apple slices and sticks of sweet potatoes and we have a blast watching him. He’s so proud when he succeeds and so purposeful while he tries.

Have I always been perfectly consistent? No. I’m sure if I go look at the video of the first time I fed him, I was shoveling food in his mouth and letting him react. (I cringe.) But as much as I can, I want to reinforce that the choices are his and that every choice has a consequence (good or bad).

Implicit in all of this is the fact that I trust my kid to know what he wants and do a decent job at doing what he needs. Is he right about what he needs all the time? No, but I do think that most of the time, his choices aren’t so bad.

People, I think I am working my way toward a parenting personality!


Who was trying to eat the cat? Not me, Mom! Who told you that? It was a LIE. (The cat apparently agrees, also faking the innocent look.)


2 thoughts on “My infant gets a lot of personal choice

  1. Have you ever visited this website: ? A lot of what you said in this post reminded me of that women’s parenting philosophy. Not everything exactly, but she talks about treating infants with respect, which we don’t always do ( although it’s mostly unintentional ). I feel like your philosophy of giving choices and “warnings” really is about treating your son (and dogs) with respect. In fact, she also talks telling your infant when you’re going to pick them up so they’re not startled.
    I’m all on board with parenting including choices. If parents are thoughtful with the choices and logical outcomes from those choices, it can only help the child grow into a confident decision maker.

    • @Molly, Oooh, neat link! I’d never heard of her, no, but yes, you’re right about that being an apt description for what I’m trying to say.

      I warn Javi (and the animals) before I turn on the vacuum cleaner (“Loud noise, 1, 2, 3!”)… and the hardest thing about being in the hospital, other than his discomfort, was having things done TO him. Of course, it was necessary, but it was very unlike his usual life experience, poor dude.

      I’m off to peruse the website some more!

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