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It is okay to let children choose!

May 26, 2015

It is okay to let children choose! (Topic 3)

The importance of choice is crucial when helping our child’s brain develop—in order to make choices we have to be able to weigh the pros and cons. We also have to have practice making choices.

When you go to a store or a restaurant how many choices do you think you have to make? Researchers found that an average person make 226.7 decisions about FOOD only, in one day. Now imagine yourself as an 18 year-old walking through the grocery store never having had to make a decision for yourself or having role models while you were growing up helping you figure out and make choices. Pretty hard! (It doesn’t have to only be with food, everything in our lives come down to a choice).

Providing our children the opportunity to make choices helps their brain develop but also creates experiences where they can take ownership (and have power) in their lives. We all want some sort of power in our lives, and children are no different. However, when they are children we have the responsibility as parents to help guide that power through our communication and role-modeling strategies. And one way we can guide that power with our communication is through providing choices. Providing choices to our child also sends them the message that we care and respect their opinion. In essence, it is building their self-esteem and confidence to make choices for themselves.

There are some things to keep in mind, however, when providing the choices:

  1. What is your goal as a parent? Sometimes parents get too bogged down with “This is how it should be because I said so.” But I would encourage you to take step back and allow your child to make a choice, within the structure you provide for them. So, we need to ask ourselves in any situation, “What is my main goal?” The main goal may be putting weather appropriate clothes on to go outside. Does it really matter what the clothes look like? No, not really. My main goal is that my child has on weather appropriate clothes when leaving the house. Now, this goal may change if you are on your way to church. The goal may then be that they need to wear something nice. Do you need to lay out one nice outfit and tell them to put it on? Not necessarily, you can provide two or three choices for your child to choose from, however keeping that structure that something “nice” should be worn to church.

Another example could be helping at dinner time. My goal or structure is that my child needs to help at dinner time; however the specific THING they help with could be a choice. Would you like to help set the table or clear the table? Would you like to set the table or wash the dishes? My goal, in this scenario, is that my child helps with the event of dinner, but the actual portion of dinner my child helps with can be a choice. It also builds within the child a sense of responsibility when the choices and consequences are consistent.

  1. Start with 2 choices and work your way up. Starting with two choices is important, especially if your child has not had the opportunity to make many decisions previously. As in the examples above I gave two choices for my child to decide. If they choose not to decide then there will be consequences, which we will talk about when we discuss discipline. But with the consistency and “broken record” tactic, children will eventually begin to decide what choice they will choose.

 

  1. Give choices you, as a parent that you can live with. The choices you provide to your child to choose from need to be choices that you can live with if your child decide to make that choice. Therefore the choices need to be something you are okay with and safe. For example, you would not give the choice to ride a bike down a busy highway or on a quiet street. The busy highway would be unsafe and would be a choice you, as a parent, would not want to see followed through with. A more realistic example would be a choice of eating a bag of M&M’s after school or carrot sticks. If your goal as a parent (which every parent is different) is to have your child have a healthy diet, the M&Ms would not be a choice you would provide. Rather you could say, “Would you like to have apple slices or carrot sticks for your after school snack?” And when they said a bag of chips, you as the parent need to stay consistent and maybe even use some discipline in order to help them understand their choices have consequences (topic 6).

 

If you haven’t tried choices with your child before, I would encourage you to try this week. You quite possibly could be amazed at what transpires—for the good.

*Most of this information is taken from the curriculum Active Parenting. However, I have also done my own research and added it in when necessary. I am not marketing Active Parenting nor do I get anything from the sales of Active Parenting. (Michael Popkin, Ph.D., 2014)

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