Why Offer Choices
Before we answer “How do I give my kids choices?,” let’s talk about why offering choices is important. Many years ago I was feeling overwhelmed when choosing where to go to college. I remember my mom telling me, “I know you will make a good choice. We’ve been teaching you how to make choices for a long time.”
Her comment stuck with me, especially when I started parenting my own children. We don’t automatically arrive at adulthood knowing how to make good choices. Learning how to make choices starts when we are young.
Providing children opportunity to choose helps build respect, develops problem solving skills, and teaches making decisions skills. These skills are important both now and in the future.
How to Give Kids Choices
I often hear “I do offer my kids choices!!! It doesn’t work.” How we give kids choices is just as important as why we give choices. Here are 4 tips for success when offering kids choices.
1 – Offer choices within the boundaries.
Offering kids choices does not mean they get the power to choose whatever, whenever they want. Kids will naturally push against the boundaries we provide to test how firm and secure the boundary is. Let’s look at some examples:
Boundary: Eating fruit is important for helping your body grow.
Choice: You may choose to have an apple or an orange with lunch. Which one would you like?
Boundary: Limiting the hours of screen use is important for physical and mental health.
Choice: You have 1 hour of screen time today. You may choose to use it now or after dinner. Which one works for you?
2 – Keep the choices simple and positive.
When offering choice as a parenting tool, it is not “do what I say or be punished.” Rather, we are providing two options that work towards the goal. Think about what you want and then offer two choices that meet that goal. Offering only two choices helps to keep everyone from being overwhelmed by too many options.
3 – Stick to the choices you have offered.
Sometimes children will push back on the choices we have offered. It can be tempting to accept their option however, this can create its own problem. When we accept an outside option, we communicate that they don’t have to pick within the boundaries. If they offer a reasonable option, you can respond: “That’s a great idea. We can try that another time. Today your choice is to ride your scooter or your bike.”
4 – Create routines around choices
Creating routines around offering choices gives kids a feeling of control and lots of time to practice making decisions. Maybe they get to pick waffles or pancakes for Saturday morning breakfast or the movie of Friday family movie night. It might be a choice of brushing teeth before or after bath time or picking what cookies you are making.
In our family, we take turns picking which game we will play together. Knowing that each person will get a choice has made it easier to play a game we might not like as much.
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