Giving choices to kids is a great idea. It develops independence and self-esteem, and it teaches about making decisions, which is a critical-thinking skill. However, it’s important to keep in mind some guidelines for giving choices to kids.
Make sure the choices you offer are ones you can live with. This is called a “win-win” choice.
- Example of a win-win choice: “Do you want to get into your car seat by yourself, or do you want me to put you in?”
- You win because the child gets into the car seat. The child wins because he or she gets to decide how they come to arrive in his/her car seat.
- Example of a potentially negative choice: “Do you want to get into your car seat now?”
- If the child says “no,” you both lose. You end up putting a stressed-out child into the car seat, and your child didn’t really get to choose anything after all. *Not using the car seat is NOT an option.
Avoid unintentional choices. This is a choice you give your child that you really didn’t intend to. A classic unintentional question is, “Are you ready for bed now?” No child ever says, “yes.”
- Try these tactics instead.
- “It is time for bed. You may choose a book to read.”
- “Should we tiptoe to bed, or would you rather have a piggy-back ride?” *Again, not going to bed isn’t an option.
For young children like toddlers, choices are great, but you have to be specific. “Do you want the red cup or the blue cup?” Too many choices can be confusing at this age. Open-ended questions can just cause more stress, such as asking, “What color cup do you want?” Your toddler might choose a purple cup, even if you don’t have one! Then you will have a battle on your hands.
Listen to yourself or to other parents. Do you put the word “OK” at the end of your requests?
- “Please, walk, OK?”
- “It’s time for bed now, OK?”
- “Let’s pick up the toys, OK?”
Without realizing it, you have just given your child a choice! Putting “OK” at the end of a sentence implies that you are asking the child if it is OK with her or him. This is a common speech pattern in adults. Sometimes we do this to be nice. We order kids around all day, and saying “OK” can be a way to soften our commands. Sometimes we say “OK” because we mean, “Do you understand?” If that is the case, it is less confusing for the child if you just ask, “Do you understand?” Try counting how many times you say “OK” at the end of a sentence, OK? (Just kidding.)
Giving your child experience making choices is an excellent teaching tool. Always remember to think through the choices that you offer and the way that you offer them. As with all guidance techniques, this takes practice! The benefits to your child will be worth it, and you will be laying the groundwork for effective child guidance.