Posts tagged “choice theory for parents

Rebel or Robot Can’t Be the Only Option

Parenting is hard. This is especially true if parents aren’t clear on the details of human design. When key details are clear, being a parent can be meaningful and fulfilling. When the key details are not clear and not put into practice, parenting is often confrontational and discouraging. So what are the key details?

Let’s start with what might be the keyest of the keys – human beings are born with an overarching feature called internal control. Another way of saying this is that humans are designed for self-control. Fairly soon in their young lives, little humans will experiment with their internal control potential. And the thing about internal control is that, by design, it does not like to be externally controlled. When people, especially children, resist being controlled they are acting, to some degree, in alignment with their design as human beings.

Given this tension between internal control and external control, parents find themselves in a conundrum. They want to control their kids, but they also want them to grow up to be independent and strong. They want to control, even as their kids are designed to not be controlled.

Parents want their kids to do exactly as they are told, to eat the eggplant that is put before them, to do their homework and get good grades, and to get into Stanford. They want their kids to act safely at all times and to be in bed by 10:00 PM with no head phones.

And yet, parents want their kids to mature into people who know how to rightly discriminate, to judge wisely, to think and act according to well-chosen principles, rather than simply following the opinions of others. Such independence and strength develops out of an atmosphere of freedom and support, though. Parental control can actually delay and, at times, impair the ability to be thoughtful and independent.

Humans are different from other animals in that, because we are designed with internal control, we require a great deal of support, instruction, and guidance early on. Other animals possess, to greater and lesser extent, instincts that even from birth fits them to survive and live. Turtles don’t have the qualities of mind to experience fun or love, but they break out of their shells and crawl along the sand to the sea with everything they need – mostly the instinct to swim and to eat – to survive and grow. Human babies are born with incredible abilities of mind, but must be supported as they are taught about their abilities and how to use them.

The nature of this support becomes rather important. All human beings, including new, little humans, possess internal control systems, and will balk when faced with the control of a system outside of itself. So big humans, adults, and parents specifically, must seek ways to influence their children without becoming involved with excess control. Some will mutter, “Bah, humbug,” to the admonition to influence rather than control kids, but the naysayers’ disgust will not change the reality of the elements of internal control.

External control is useful for machines, but we risk harming our connection with others whenever we use it on humans, especially those with whom we are close. An answering machine can be programmed to answer a call at the fourth ring, and will do so every time without question or complaint. If all you want to do is record messages then a machine can, in most cases, do the trick. Humans, on the other hand, are not meant to respond like machines, and in fact constantly question, process, and predict the circumstances in the world around them. These abilities enable them to function in both a predictable and unpredictable world, a complex world in which many other humans are also seeking to successfully negotiate reality.

When it comes to preparing kids for life it gets back to a central question – What Do I Really Want? Do I want my kids to be able to take full advantage of their personal internal control systems, independent, capable, and confident? Or do I want to control my kids and have them jump when I say ‘jump’ and sit when I say ‘sit?’

If control is the focus, then there are at least two significant risks to consider-

The first risk is that a child or teenager, being of internal control, will rebel, whether actively or passively. Teenagers that are “active rebellers” are the ones who get in your face and argue about your ridiculous expectation or rule, before tromping to their room and slamming their door. Teenagers that are “passive rebellers” are those who wait until you are not around, and then will behave exactly how they want, regardless of your admonitions and threats. Adult attempts at control that foster rebellion, whether active or passive, is the motivation behind a great deal of teen at-risk behavior.

The second risk is that a child or teenager will comply, obeying the commands or expectations out of fear. Rebellious behavior is absent, but so is the development of a backbone. Such children may appear like well-drilled soldiers, but they lack in independence and grow up doubting their own capability, and in some cases, grow up doubting even their own opinion.

Neither of these control paths is the goal. Rebel or robot can’t be the only options.

All human beings would be served by learning about the details of internal control design. Not knowing these details is like playing in a game in which we do not know the object of the game or the rules that govern play. Parents especially, though, need to understand the concepts of internal control. What follows are a few areas to keep in mind. Because you are reading this post you are well on your to achieving the first area, that being awareness.

+ Become aware of internal control design as it relates to human motivation and behavior. Internal control systems do not like to be controlled by other systems. The fact that children and students are guided by internal control is a strength, not a flaw.

+ Compassionately apply the concept of Gradual Release of Responsibility. This educational term is kept in mind by teachers as they prepare students to independently use a new academic or creative skill. Teachers will scaffold learning, thus providing support for students until they can do the skill on their own. Parents can benefit, too, from the Gradual Release of Responsibility. A three year old child can’t be given a lot of responsibility, but s/he can be given some. If parents desire their children to be independent and strong, they will need to be comfortable with giving kids choices and learning from their mistakes.

+ Foster a connection with children based on communication and trust. Control may lead to compliance, but it does not lead to heart change. Instead of striving to control, it is much more valuable and lasting to be able to influence. Influence may seem flimsy in comparison to control, but in fact it is just the opposite. Influence, the ability to persuade kids to believe in something for themselves, is much stronger than control, which dissolves into nothingness when the threats aren’t present. An important axiom of raising kids is that – “As long as you are connected, you have influence.” And when your kid is on their own – at that party or on that trip with friends or with their boyfriend or girlfriend after the prom – influence is all you’ve got.

Rebel or robot isn’t the only option. Kids need expectations and guidelines, but they don’t need us to go into a power mode to force them to behave.


Fun Fact 1: Completed the first online summer course this past week featuring the ideas of The Better Plan. Topics included managing without coercing, the spiritual implications of internal and external control, the caring and deadly habits, the basic needs, quality world, creativity, and total behavior, to name a few. Reading the Soul Shaper book was a part of the class, along with a number of the posts from this Better Plan blog site.

Fun Fact 2: I’m retired, but will continue, for the time being, to teach at PUC.

Takeaways from Oregon

Livingstone Adventist Academy in Salem, Oregon, asked me to return this past week and lead out in a follow-up Choice Theory in-service, this time with a desire to focus on application of the ideas. The staff from McMinnville Adventist School joined us as well for the two-day in-service. As I reflect on the topics we covered, the activities we experienced, and the interactions I had with these talented and committed educators, these are the takeaways I have identified so far –

Choice Theory Principles Are Powerful
This may seem to obvious to mention, but I am going to say it anyway. The ideas and principles of Choice Theory really are life-changing. I can see it in the way participants are affected at certain moments during the in-service; I can hear it in their comments as they process how their own relationships are going or how their classrooms are functioning. There is truth in the ideas of Choice Theory and people relate to the ideas at a very deep personal level.

Chris Sequeira, David Davies, and Sharon Cutz, role play a parent who overhears her teenager talk with friends about cheating.

Chris Sequeira, David Davies, and Sharon Cutz, role play a parent who overhears her teenager talk with friends about cheating.

Role Play Reveals the Challenge of Applying Choice Theory
Glasser used to say that Choice Theory is easy to understand, but hard to do. Most of the difficulty, I think, in applying Choice Theory has to do with the length of time we have been marinating in external control, either with external control being used on us or with us using external control on others. Being involved in role play, where participants work through common personal or classroom challenges, shows how challenging it can be to come up with the right question at the right moment. Learning about problem-solving conferencing is about learning to help another person effectively self-evaluate; it’s about helping another person identify insights and make a success plan. Rather than telling and giving advice, it’s about listening and asking the “artful question.” Oh, and by the way, as nice as this may sound, it is hard to do. For some reason we tend to be “better” at telling and giving advice. Fortunately, role play is fun, which keeps us wading back in for more insight and experience.


Groups spread out for a role play about a student who disrupts the classroom as the class clown. (Pictured: Katrina Koch, Bev Laabs, and Elizabeth Fish)

Students Need To Be Taught Choice Theory, Not Just To Have Choice Theory Used On Them
As teachers (and parents) we can’t delay on this. Few of us feel like Choice Theory experts, but remember that “He who does the teaching does the learning.” We give our students and children a great gift when we teach them about the Basic Needs or about their Quality World. Sonya Reaves recent post about how she taught her students about Total Behavior really underscores this point. Remember to review past Better Plan posts for more ideas. Here are some quick links to get you going.

Desks as Cars. I DID IT!

27 Intrinsic Motivation Ideas

Glasser’s Big 3 Quality School Pieces

Teaching the Quality World


Parent Night Was a Success
The in-service took place on Wednesday and Thursday, with a Choice Theory for Parents scheduled on Wednesday evening. The goal going in was to introduce Choice Theory to parents who may be interested in the direction the school was headed. School board members were also invited. The outline for the evening was simple. I talked about the idea of external control and the way it shows up in our lives, personally, professionally, and politically. I talked about how external control is very much a part of traditional schooling strategies, where teachers are very much focused on control and compliance. We then shifted to the idea that people were created for internal control and free will, not to be controlled by someone else. As the outline reminds us, we each behave for reasons that are entirely personal. The goal of schools, then, is to come into alignment with this internal control design and tap into the power that comes out of internal motivation. The Basic Needs provide an excellent springboard from which to consider student needs and the ways in which schools can intentionally become need-satisfying places. (If you have forgotten what BIRG stands for check out this link – Why Fulfill Your Own Dreams, When Your Kids Can Do It For You? )

The simple outline followed during the Parent Night orientation.

The simple outline followed during the Parent Night orientation.

Follow-Up Is Needed
This is true whenever systemic change is the goal. This follow-up is really about on-going support. Choice Theory ideas are strong, but we live in an external control world and without some kind of on-going support we tend to revert to what we know, what we have experienced the most. The follow-up doesn’t necessarily have to include me. The key is that there needs to be a local “keeper of the flame,” a local person who keeps the Choice Theory dialogue going and who provides moments for practice and reflection. Positive change is enhanced when there is a plan. I believe these factors are coming into place at Livingstone. I am excited for their future!


Parallel Truth
I was touched when, at the close of the in-service, the group presented me with the book, The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by The Arbinger Instutute. Several of them explained how the message of the book is so complimentary to the message of Choice Theory, and that they thought I might like it. I am almost halfway through the book and I can already say how obvious the connection is between the two. I can very much recommend it to my Choice Theory colleagues spread around the world. It is striking how effective practices can be arrived at by different people or groups working independently of one another. As you may recall, I felt that way after reading Drive, by Daniel Pink. I am thankful whenever I see others proclaiming the message of internal control. (And for the personal messages that were written on the inside cover of the book from each of the in-service participants – Thank You! I treasure what you shared.)

I become an agent of change only to the degree that I begin to live
to help things go right
 rather than simply to
correct things that are going wrong.

from the The Anatomy of Peace

In the quiet of Thursday morning before participants begin arriving.

In the quiet of Thursday morning before participants begin arriving.

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