Most seasoned parents have either said, or heard other moms say, “I believe in giving my child choices,” although it seems every parent has their own way of offering choices. Some methods are effective, while some methods can be truly ineffective, and even detrimental. That being said, when used correctly, I feel that offering a child choices can be one of the most powerful methods for managing problem behaviors, raising problem solvers, teaching self-responsibility, and even instilling character and initiative in your young child.
- First, choices should be offered often throughout the day so that when there’s not a choice about something, your child is more likely to comply because they’ve had so many other opportunities to choose things that there’s no need to be defiant. We all have an innate desire to be in control and make choices about things in our lives. When we feel we’ve lost control or don’t have a choice, we become defiant. Children are no different!
Research says that an average 2 year old hears “no” 75% of the time. What if, instead of saying “no” when our child asks for a sugary juice we say, “You may choose water or milk, which do you choose?” If bath time is an issue, then before bath time starts, you begin offering choices such as, “Would you like to take a bath upstairs or downstairs?” or “Would you like mom or dad to bathe you tonight?” or “Would you like you bath now or when your cartoon is over?” This method of offering choices should happen often throughout the day so the child feels in control, when in actuality the adult is still maintaining control.
- Choices can be used to manage problem behaviors too. Another rule of thumb is to only offer 2 choices, don’t overwhelm your child with, “You get to choose your video today”. That’s way too much responsibility for a young child. Instead, keep it to two choices at a time. Also, be sure to use the word “choice” often. An example would be, “You may choose to walk calmly to the car with me or you may choose to be carried to the car, which do you choose?” The beauty of this is that the adult can always fall back on the choices. If the child refuses to walk to the car, the adult (with a smile on their face) picks the child up and carries them to the car, because if the child doesn’t choose within 3 seconds, you choose for them.
- This last rule of thumb is the most important: be sure to only offer choices that fit your value system. Offering something you can’t follow through on, or don’t want to follow through on, would be ineffective and teach your child that your words are meaningless. For example, if you know your child may act up in the library during story time, then before entering the library you offer the choice, “You may choose to sit quietly and enjoy the story, or you may choose not to sit quietly and leave story time. I wonder what you’ll choose. I love you.” The “I love you” lets your child know they’ll be loved no matter what choice they make, but also strengthens the mother-child bond prior to the choice in hopes the child makes the right choice. The moment the child acts up, you leave. No warnings, no reminders, and for goodness sake, no counting, “1, 2, 3”. We don’t want our children growing up thinking they get 3 chances before anything really happens. We want our children to learn that the moment a choice is made, they are committed to that choice.
Offering children choices builds self-confidence, reduces power struggles, and teaches your child that they are capable of making decisions. It also allows them to practice self-control and take responsibility for their own actions.
How could you use choices effectively with your young child?
If you’d like to learn more about using choices effectively and other positive parenting strategies, you can register to take one of my parenting workshops. My next workshop is being held at Heartsong Music 2700 W. Anderson Ln. Tuesdays from 6-7:30 beginning June 17-July 15. Register here.
If you can’t attend this course these workshops can also be offered in your home for family and friends. Email me at [email protected] to find out more.