This or that? Here or there? We make choices throughout our day without even thinking about it, but often kids don’t have the same opportunities for choices. Integrating choices into parenting is one of my favorite techniques.
Why? Because it works for kids of ALL ages from young to old (even for adults). Everyone wants to feel in control of their lives and choices give people a feeling of control. For kids, control is often something that is sorely missing from their day to day lives. Think about it…kids are told by adults most every day what to do, how to do it, when to do it, where to do it, and on and on. Providing them choices throughout their day will help increase their feeling of control and decrease their need to push back or get into power struggles. It can also provide more "buy in" from your kiddo, leading to easier task completion. Making choices is a life skill that we often overlook; when we don’t practice, we can become intimidated by making choices. Providing two or three options can help choices feel less overwhelming—I often ask for three choices when I’m asked to choose a restaurant instead of the dreaded “I don’t know” response.
I recommend integrating choices as often as possible with kids. Little choices for little kids and big choices for big kids. There are lots of opportunities for offering choices throughout the day:
This or That—Do you want broccoli or carrots with your sandwich? Do you want to go to the park near our house or the one near school? Do you want to walk or ride your bike? Do you want to play baseball or soccer this season?
How Many—Do you want one cookie or two? Do you need 5 or 10 more minutes to finish your game? Do you want to have 5 or 6 friends at your birthday party?
How To Do It—Do you want to walk or skip to the car? Do you want to hold my left hand or my right hand? With big kids—I wonder how you’re going to get that done? Do you want to put on music while we clean up?
Who Will Help—Do you want mom or dad to read to you at bedtime? Are you going to clean up on your own or do you need my help?
Where—Do you want to shower in your bathroom or the guest bathroom? Are you going to do your homework at the kitchen table or sitting at the counter? Should we go to Disney or on a cruise for vacation (once vacations are a thing again!)?
What color—Do you want to wear a blue shirt or a yellow shirt today? What color do you want to paint the walls in your room?
When—Do you want to go to read a book first or brush your teeth first? For teens: your chores need to be completed by 6:00, when do you think you will get them done?
Things to keep in mind: All choices should lead to an outcome that you as the parent are happy with. Don’t offer a choice that you aren’t OK with. Both options should be appealing to your child, don’t offer cookies or green beans as choices. When something needs to get done, whether or not to do it is not the choice, think of ways to get the task completed that might be fun!
Here's a quick reference sheet to help you offer choices: