Wise In Your Own Eyes Explained

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How “wise in your own eyes” leads to conflict between you and your child. Understand what decision-making freedoms to allow your child to have.

Blonde girl wearing a green beret looking at the camera
While our little ones are babies, we stress out over food and sleep. We come to a know a whole new level of stress and heartache as that cute baby grows up and we start to butt heads with that little cutie. This conflict between you and this little child you love immensely is hard to take. 

“It is our firm conviction, based on our observations, that more conflicts arise out of this wise in your own eyes attitude than any other single factor in parenting” (Preschoolwise page 72).

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What is Wise in Your Own Eyes

Essentially, a child who is wise in his own eyes thinks he is more mature, smarter, and more capable than he actually is. When he is given instruction from someone with authority, he will talk back, be sassy, and refuse to listen unless he happens to agree with the instruction. If obedience is enforced, a fit will follow.

A child who is wise in his own eyes is a child who has been granted too many freedoms. They “go places they should not go and say things they should not say” (Preschoolwise page 67). This is the reason you want to avoid the “choice addiction,” or giving your kiddos too many choices and too much control at too young of an age.  This is very easy to do.

In On Becoming Preschoolwise, they use the example of a child refusing a certain color of cup. Mom sees that as not a big deal and changes the cup. There are several other choices that the child then insisting upon having control over. By lunchtime, the child informs mom that he doesn’t want lunch just then. He will eat later. He is busy.

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Why Wise in Your Own Eyes is a Problem

Allowing your child to have a blue cup instead of the red cup you offered him is not necessarily a problem, but it can lead to a problem. Of course, we all want our children to grow toward independence; we don’t want to make every choice in our child’s life forever (well, maybe we would like to, but we know that isn’t healthy 😉 ).

Ezzo and Bucknam point out that your child is unable to discriminate between amoral choices (choosing which color of cup to have) and moral choices (choosing whether or not to obey the instruction to share with others).

“From his perspective, saying no to Mom’s instructions is no different than saying no to her selection of juice” (page 67). Saying no to something innocent like what color of cup to drink from is no different to him than saying no to naptime. In his mind, if he is wise enough for one decision, he is wise enough for the other.

That makes sense, right? You can see why a child would jump to that conclusion.

When you grant freedoms too early and allow your child to make his own choices all day long, he will soon “assume a false sense of confidence in their own abilities and judgments” (page 71).

This is the reason you always want to watch and be mindful of the choices you allow. You don’t want your child to get to the point of thinking he can tell you no when you give him an instruction.

How To Allow Freedoms Appropriately

Kids need to learn to make choices in life, and they can only do that by making choices. That means they need some freedom.

My personal policy is to allow some choices, but I often test my child’s submission to me. For example, as the child has gotten older, I have allowed him to have more say over what he wears each day.

At first, I gave him a choice between two shirts that I would be happy with. It taught him about making choices and sticking with the choice made (experiencing the “consequence”). As he has gotten older, I have given him more freedom. Some days I let him pick any short-sleeved shirt from his closet. Some days he can choose the shorts he wears. I don’t yet allow him to choose the entire outfit from the beginning. We work up to that.

Read: How to Teach a Child How to Make Decisions

I don’t, however, give him this privilege every day of the week when I am first introducing this freedom. I know that there are days I want to reserve the right to choose the entire outfit (church, pictures, family reunions, etc.). Several days of the week, I choose the entire outfit. I watch his reaction to me choosing and make sure he has not become addicted to making choices. 

If the child throws a fit when I make the choice, I know he isn’t quite ready for the level of freedom I have been allowing and I scale it back. If he handles me being in charge of a decision well, then I know things are on the right track. If he fights it and throws a fit, then I know he isn’t quite ready for that freedom yet and I scale back.

When Brayden was younger, there was a day when he protested the outfit I chose for him. I knew that day that he had too many freedoms overall and I limited them.

I believe the oldest child has a greater risk for being wise in his own eyes. We often give our oldest child freedoms sooner than he is really ready for them simply because we don’t have the experience to guide us on what he needs and what he doesn’t.

How to stop conflict between you and your child.

We are eager for this little child to show his maturity. We anxiously await every new step. We also ask the oldest child to help with younger siblings and expect them to be a good example. It doesn’t help that younger children often obey the oldest child without question (at least in the younger years).

One day as I was nursing McKenna in her room, Brayden and Kaitlyn came to the bathroom (right next to McKenna’s room). Brayden got a book for Kaitlyn and pointed to a spot in the hall and told her to sit there and read the book while he went to the bathroom. She did it! I was shocked, amused, and dismayed all at the same time. That is a situation that is really funny, but you know that you need to have a talk with the oldest child on his role in the family.

With subsequent children, we typically have a better idea of the appropriate timeline for privileges. For example, I allowed Brayden the choice of choosing shirts at 27 months, but that was a little too early. I wanted until Kaitlyn was older.

We can run into problems when we allow the younger children the same privilege as the older sibling. It can be easier to allow it than to fight the younger child who wants to be just like older brother, but you absolutely introduce discipline issues when you allow a child freedoms she isn’t ready for. You want to keep siblings the correct place in the funnel

How to Keep Siblings in the Funnel

Why We Limit Choices

Take note of the why as to the reason we limit choices. It isn’t to suppress our children. It is to require a moral maturity from them before they can be granted freedoms. If you find your child of any age, from toddler to teenager, resistant to your instruction, the first step is to always evaluate the child’s freedoms. Get them back in line with age appropriateness and you will have more harmony at home.

Read: Too Many Freedoms 


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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at Babywise.life, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. Sarah
    August 10, 2009 / 4:48 PM

    Awesome post! My baby is still only 8 1/2 months but I am definitely anticipating this time in his life – when he wants to start making more choices. I am working hard to follow babywise 2 and then toddler wise. It is hard to try and do the right thing every day all while hoping your child turns out the way you want them to.I have had a few discussions with my mom. She was saying she thinks that you don't need to say 'no' very much and you should distract the child if they are doing something wrong. I said, no you need to teach your child to respond to your voice. You may not always be able to physically move them away from something they shouldn't touch so they do need to learn to listen to you. She ended up agreeing with me. I would like to think that I learned this from reading your blog (and the book as well). :)Sarah

  2. trishconway
    August 10, 2009 / 6:15 PM

    This was really, really interesting Valerie! Thanks for sharing it! Even though my daughter is only 8 months, I can already tell she is going to be willful. These are great points that I will surely come back to again and again.I think that limiting choices is an interesting alternative to not giving any choices at all – this is the basic premise behind "Love and Logic." While I think that L&L takes this too far, I do like the idea of offering TWO choices to the child, both of which YOU have chosen. Not for every situation, but for some. I love how you continually monitor Brayden's obedience by not giving him a choice over something – what a great idea.I also found it interesting that your thought is that the oldest child gets the most freedom in the family. From my personal experience as a sibling, I would have thought the opposite. As the eldest in my family, I had the least amount of freedom growing up, especially in my teen years (and I was a very, very good kid!). My younger sister had a TON of freedom (and consequently, got into a ton of trouble, too). I think it was because my parents saw that I "turned out well," and thought they could loosen up with my sister. I think it backfired. 🙂

  3. Plowmanators
    August 10, 2009 / 7:23 PM

    Thanks Sarah! Good job continuing the series. I think you will be very happy if you do.

  4. Plowmanators
    August 10, 2009 / 7:33 PM

    Trish, I think I need to clarify. I think that the oldest child often is given freedoms before the child is really ready for it. The parents don't really know what they are doing and the child seems much older than he actually is. But conversely, there are things that we don't think the oldest child is ready for when he actually is.An example would be that when Brayden was four months old, I thought he was so old. It felt like he had been around forever. I stressed out about him not STTN long stretches. Conversely, I view McKenna as a little, tiny baby still. She isn't sleeping 12 hours and I am not the least bit concerned about it (she sleeps 12-13 hours, but with a dreamfeed in there). But conversely, I didn't think Brayden was capable of putting his shoes on for a long time. Shortly after I started having him put them on himself, Kaitlyn started putting hers on herself…lol.I think when it comes to freedoms especially, the oldest child is experimented with the most. Freedoms are given and taken more often. I have to experiment with Brayden more, while with Kaitlyn I am a better judge of what she is and isn't ready for. I hope that makes sense. I think what you described is common for an oldest and youngest child. I hope to avoid too much freedom for my youngest for that reason.

  5. Becca
    August 10, 2009 / 8:24 PM

    Just wanted to say that I love your story about Brayden and Kaitlyn. Sounds like a smart little boy to me. Rather than complaining to mommy about a little sister wanting to follow him around everywhere, he gave her something to do so she wouldn't! That's too cute!I love your post btw!

  6. Kristy Shreve Powers
    August 11, 2009 / 4:38 PM

    This clarifies some things for me. Your remark that a child doesn't know the difference between a moral choice and an amoral choice gave me an "aha" moment. I know that was in the book but it didn't hit me the same way when I read it there. So when Xander suddenly says no to something I've asked him to do, it's probably a reflection of the other choices I've given him that day. I had to smile reading about Brayden tying his shoes and Kaitlyn learning immediately. Xander didn't "learn" to put on his own shoes until I had the baby and he would have had to wait for me for a while! 😉

  7. Plowmanators
    August 19, 2009 / 7:43 PM

    I know Becca, he is turning into quite the negotiator. Something I love about that story is that Kaitlyn obeyed him simply based on his level of expectation. He didn't have to punish her in any way to get her to obey him.

  8. Plowmanators
    August 19, 2009 / 7:45 PM

    Kristy, I know, there is so much like that that children don't learn until they have to wait.They other day as I watched Kaitlyn undress herself (again, earlier than Brayden ever did), I realized a lot of it probably has a lot to do with the fact that I am not able to interfere as much. She often is waiting for me, and instead of waiting, she does it herself. I am not hovering and jumping in after she struggles a couple of times.

  9. Gideon, Mama, and Dada
    August 20, 2009 / 2:55 PM

    I started writing this comment under a post about "mini-fits" but then thought "Wise in own eyes" may be more applicable: My son is 16 months old actually does very well with boundaries, restriction, and correction for the most part, but we definitely have had our share of issues with strangers and strange places. Our biggest issue we've been struggling with is the doctor's office. He's typically fine until the doctor comes in. He starts out whimpering, but quickly escalates, and even may FREAK out, even though she is the sweetest lady. (To make matters more complicated, my son often has breath-holding spells when he gets upset, which have, on two separate occasions, turned into real and terrifying seizures. We walk a fine line between not letting him get away with having a fit, and not wanting him to have another seizure.) In the doc's office, he communicates effectively – he cries and points to the door and says "out" or "byebye," but even though I understand what he wants, we can't just leave. I can say "just a few more minutes" to him, but it just doesn't cut it. He wants byebye, and that's the only thing that will calm him down. How do you calm/correct/dicipline/explain to a kid who is uncomfortable? How can I encourage him to ask calmly and not whine (or worse)? Or is that not the real issue – Is he trying to dictate the where and when, but that's not his to determine? Does it sound like I am allowing him too much freedom of choice during the day, and don't realize how that's impacting situations like this? I could use some advice!

  10. Plowmanators
    August 31, 2009 / 5:08 PM

    From what you have said, it really doesn't sound like a freedom issue. If he has issues like this at home, then perhaps. You have a unique situation with the seizures.One step would be to work on teaching him appropriate/alternative ways to react when upset. If you can move away from the seizure issue, then you will be able to control the situation more effectively. You might want to buy a toy doctor set and play doctor at home. Let him be the doctor on you, on stuffed animals, on daddy…then you be the doctor, too. When you are the patient, I would say things like, "I am feeling a little scared, but I will be brave. I will be okay." When you are going to the doctor, take time before to explain what is going to happen and how you want him to behave. Have practice sessions at home. To me, it sounds like he is just scared. Doctors are used to kids being affraid of them, so I am sure she is fine 🙂

  11. Natka-Kanadka
    December 19, 2010 / 7:37 PM

    What do you do if a child doesn't want to wear the clothing that you picked for him? What if he finds it uncomfortable (too hot, too 'scratchy', too tight)? Most dressy clothes/shoes are uncomfortable, especially for young boys. Would you still make him wear what you picked for him or would you let him wear something more comfortable, but not as 'appropriate' for the occasion (ex. pictures, church, etc.)?Thank you.

  12. Plowmanators
    December 28, 2010 / 11:59 PM

    I would wonder if the child has any sensory issues. I would also shop around for clothing that is as comfortable as it can be. To church each week, Brayden wears a full suit and tie, as well as dress shoes. He doesn't complain about the comfort of the item.If Brayden were to complain about the comfort of a shirt (like it being itchy), I would not make him wear it, but he doesn't complain about his clothes. If he complained about basically everything I put him in, or certain themes (like dressier clothes), I would think something was up. Either the child has sensory issues, the clothes really are uncomfortable (but you can find comfortable clothes), or the child just doesn't like being told what to wear and is looking for a way out. You will have to figure out what it is 🙂

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