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Giving Children Choices Helps Build Strong Decision Making Skills

Updated on February 20, 2014

The Power Struggle

When you are running late and your child is pitching a fit over shoes, what do you do? Do you give in and let her wear her cowboy boots with her shorts in the 100 degree weather or do you tuck her tennis shoes into your bag and scoop her up screaming and head on out the door? Either way, one of you or both of you are frustrated and angry. That makes for a lousy day for both of you. You arrive at work even more late than you left and already frazzled. She arrives at day care, school or the sitters just as frazzled and without hope of recovery any time soon! The teacher or care giver LOVES that! Not really!! It now has taken the toll on not only you and your child, but your co-workers and her care givers. All because your child, no matter what their age, wanted a little power! We get into these power struggles with children all the time and we often push them into doing what we want. Our alternative is to let them rule our universe and that isn't happening! Right??? Well, I have another solution! What would you say if I told you that a few simple steps could end the power struggles and change your universe!

Giving children choices made a real difference in my classroom!
Giving children choices made a real difference in my classroom! | Source

Giving Children Choices

Giving your child a choice whenever possible may turn it all around! Now don't get me wrong...they can't choose to rule the universe, because as I would say it, "That's not one of the choices!" However, giving a child a well thought out and planned choice, they can feel like they have a bit of power and they are more likely to "stick with" one of their choices.

It is all about timing and wording. Treat the child respectfully, and give them two items to choose from only. Two is enough to get started. For example, let's talk about the child above and the shoes. The night before, Mom tells Joy, "We have to leave home by 7 so I can get to work on time. I need your help. We are going to pick out your clothes tonight. Do you want to wear the red shirt or the yellow shirt? Red? Okay, now you will wear your jean shorts with the red shirt." "Which shoes would you like to wear? We have your flip flops or your tennis shoes?" Child replies, "I don't want my jean shorts and I wanna wear my boots!" Mom now says, "Your jean shorts are the only ones that are clean and will fit. It is hot and you will wear your jean shorts. That is not a choice. You can choose your shoes! You may wear your flip flops or your tennis shoes." Of course the child is going to say "I wanna wear my boots!" Calmly remind your child that it is hot and boots are hot, so they are not a choice. The two choices she has are flip flops or tennis shoes. Be sure to add the visual of the actual shoes. Place them with the red shirt and the jean shorts. Point out colors or whatever good qualities that might help with the decision. If the child begins to protest, then shift the focus to the choice. Tell your child that she may chose or you will chose. She will choose to make her own choice! That's when you shift back to the two shoes you have placed in front of her. Stay with it! If she leaves, you make a choice. If she comes back and sees the tennis shoes and says, "I want flip flops." You can say, "Okay. You left so I thought you wanted me to choose. But if you choose flip flops, then that is a good choice and you may wear them." Be sure to praise her when she reaches a decision. "What a big decision that was! I am so glad you made a good choice." By praising her making a decision, she will begin to make decisions quicker in order to get to the praise quicker. It may take time, but if you are consistent and are willing to hold them to their choices, it WILL work!!

Begin by giving children two items to choose from and holding them to their choice.
Begin by giving children two items to choose from and holding them to their choice.

Hold Your Ground And See It Work

The next morning would be the perfect time to start the day with praise! You hold your ground, she will wear the red shirt and the flip flops with the jean shorts. That is not how you tell her though, is it? No way! We are in it to win it!! You wake her up by saying, "there is my big decision making girl! I am so glad you made your choices last night we will be on time today and that makes me so happy and proud! Thank you for helping me!" That will seal the deal and you are off to get ready!

The key is to only offer choices that you choose for them to make. You stick to the two choices and make them stick to theirs. If they backtrack, you MUST hold them to their choices. It will only take a time or two for them to realize you mean business and they will stop fighting you on it. If they refuse to stick to their decision, then you make a choice and go on! Hold your head up because you offered a choice. They decided to let you choose! Again they will learn to work with you IF, and ONLY if, you follow through!! It is so worth it!

You can adjust this to any child's age and it will work. Older children will co-operate with this if it is explained to them beforehand. Something like, "We have had some really rough mornings lately and I don't like being mad at you when I go to work. I was thinking that we could make some decisions together and it will help." Explain that you will let them choose from what things are okay and then you will respect their selection. Period. Most of them will be on board in no time. You can expect some struggle with your child, it is normal. They are testing your limits to see if you really believe in what you say. Do you believe in it enough to stand up for it against them? If not, they will out you in no time at all! You can expand the number of choices or the level of choices as it fits your situation. One evening in my household, one child was working on choosing shoes and another was working on choosing curfew times. Yes, he chose his curfew time. I set the parameters of what was okay with me and he made a choice. He came up with 12:19 a.m. and stuck with it for years! He still will hold to it when home visiting between deployments! The important part is that It taught them how to make choices within parameters and how to follow through with their decisions. They will learn how to make good decisions and will be more likely to stand behind them because they really had to be aware of their choices. I am so glad that I gave my children choices as they grew up! They are confident young adults who are concientious about their decisions. It still works!

Photo and Text Copyright 2011 Deborah M. Carey

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