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Today I want to share one of my favorite skills with you! Giving choices. This skill is awesome, because it helps kids become more compliant, and it’s a ton of fun. Why should we give choices? Children (and people in general) crave freedom. Most people hate being bossed around. Isn’t that our job as parents though? Not necessarily.
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., explain, “One big parental temptation is to make decisions for our kids, so that they consistently do the right thing. But as often as possible, we need to give them practice at making decisions for themselves.” (Whole-Brain Child, p. 53) They go on to explain that offering choices gives children a chance to practice weighing different options and their outcomes. We do need to guide and teach our children, but in a way that respects their freedom. We can accomplish that by giving them choices within limits.
One night I was babysitting an adorable two year old boy. We had a lots of fun together. When the time came, I said, “Ok, time for bed!” His mood changed in the blink of an eye. “I don’t want to,” he said with a frown. “I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied. “Would you like to go down the stairs by yourself, or do you want me to carry you like an airplane?” He chose to go by himself. Then I gave him a choice about every step to getting ready for bed.
- Do you want to brush your own teeth, or have me do it?
- Which book do you want me to read?
- Which song should we sing?
- Do you want the door open or shut?
At this point he said, “I don’t want to go to sleep.” I told him, “I know. It’s time to go to bed. I hope yoyu have sweet dreams! Goodnight.”
I walked away, and he stayed in bed. This is choices within limits. I didn’t allow negotiation about going to bed, but I gave choices about everything leading up to it.
I also used choices as a teacher! My 2nd graders’ eyes would light up when I gave choices like: you may start at the beginning of this worksheet, or start at the end and go backward, or would you like to do push-ups or sit-ups first during P.E? I would have two review games ready. The class loved getting to choose which one we played.
Older kids love to be given choices too. You can have them choose when they will finish their chores. (Just make sure that you hold them accountable to it!) They can choose which extra-curricular activities to participate in. Give them a few different options of chores to be responsible for.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
Here are guidelines from Love and Logic on giving choices:
“Give 99% of choices when things are going smoothly. Provide choices only on issues that are not dangerous and don’t create a problem for anyone else on the planet.” (For example, a child should never get to choose whether to wear a seat belt. They can, however, choose to do it on their own or with your help.) “Always offer two options, each a choice that makes you happy. Choose for the child in ten seconds flat if the child doesn’t.” (Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood, p. 84)
It can be hard to remember to give choices before there is a problem. It helps to make it a habit. Give choices all. the. time. about everything. It will also help to prepare in advance. Think of a few times when your child frequently misbehaves. Some common ones are bedtime, leaving a fun place, and chores. Now write down as many choices as you can think of for these circumstances. Next time you are in one of these situations, give choices before your child resists. Here is an example of this exercise.
Situation: Leaving a friend’s house. You need to leave at 1:30.
- At 1:20: Do you want to leave now, or keep playing for 5 minutes? (If they choose to play for 5 minutes, it might help to set a timer.)
- Do you want to walk or crawl like a dog to the door?
- Do you want to give your friend a hug or no hug?
- Will you put your shoes on, or should I help you?
- Do you want to hold my hand as we walk to the car or no?
It can be really fun to use this technique! Your kids (or students) will love having more freedom. I’m sure you and your kids will also have a lot of fun doing silly choices. As you implement this skill, remember that it might not make a huge difference right away. Be consistent, and give it some time.
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Want more tips to be proactive with your kids? Click here.
Do you feel like a jerk when you discipline? Try this skill.