Giving a child (age appropriate) choices is essential for their optimal growth and development. Allowing the child to make a choice:
- helps a child learn to be competent at making choices-gives the child a sense of (age appropriate) autonomy and self efficacy
- conveys the message to the child that they are important to you, that their thoughts and ideas matter
- supplies an appropriate outlet for a child who feels the need for “control.”
Often adults fight way more battles than needed because we don’t realize this extremely important area of development. As a parent, I never realized how many choices I automatically made for my kids. Little, seemingly non-essential things, missed opportunities to load “yeses”, let them have a voice, and create an atmosphere for healthy (age-appropriate) development.
Then I would fight behaviors all day long, behaviors driven by the developmentally appropriate need for autonomy, efficacy and yes, even some control. Problems arising because when my children would push back, it was usually on things that were NOT age appropriate decisions for them to make, they didn’t know the difference. I started small, offering choices of snacks, clothing, shoes, cereal, jelly, etc. instead of just making those choices, I’d let my children choose. Sounds silly, but it works!
“But this child is a control freak! They’ll want their own choice of EVERYTHING!”
- this is an opportunity for teaching: some things are theirs for choices, some things have to be adult choices (assure them they will be able to make those choices someday too)
- when the child starts getting to make some choices, gaining little bits of control of their world, they can stop fighting so hard for control of everything. Remember you, as the adult, set the choices based on your decisions (what’s healthy, age-appropriate, etc.) You are setting up the framework so whatever they choose, it IS a good choice.
“What if they don’t like the choices I’ve given them?”
Teach the child to ask for a compromise, simply learning to make a suggestion or ask for a different choice. If their idea for a different choice is okay for you, then say “YES!” (Load those yes deposits). If it is not doable, then Say “oh that would be wonderful, but that’s not an option right now, is there another idea/choice you’d like and continue to work with them, best you can until a compromise is reached. Word of caution… don’t get stuck holding your ground between two choices just because you want control. If it’s an ok option, don’t be afraid to do it.
“Won’t the child want to choice and compromise EVERYTHING?”
In the beginning, yes, it’s like when they discover post-it notes or tape. Once the new wears off, it’ll settle to normal.
“Won’t the child become manipulative?”
There is nothing wrong with a child learning to ask for their preference or learning how to negotiate what they want or need. Children need to learn this skill as they grow so they become adults who can negotiate their needs appropriately without having to use inappropriate, manipulative behaviors.
Remember, the adult is still in charge and setting up the framework for learning.