Why You Should Not Say “If” To Kids


Offering kids choices is a great way to avoid power struggles, to give them some control over their behaviour and to teach them to determine what they need to do to get along in our world.

But there are some considerations and that’s what we are going to talk about today.

You Have A Choice….

“Put on your sweater before you go outside.”

“I hate this sweater, it scratches me.”

“Put on the sweater!”


Mom then grabs her angry pre-schooler and manages to get the sweater on her. Of course, as soon as Mom lets go, our feisty four-year-old is pulling it off.

There has to be a better way.

“It’s chilly outside, do you want to wear this sweater or the jacket?”

“I hate the sweater, it scratches me. I’ll wear the jacket.”

“Great, just put it on and let’s go.”

Offering kids choices is a positive way to elicit their cooperation. They feel they have some control in their lives and your need to have them dressed warmly are both met.

Also when we offer a choice, the response, “no” just isn’t on the table.

When you say put this on or else, then a refusal is possible. When you offer a choice, then it’s one or the other.

This is one of the most effective skills a parent can develop but is also fraught with problems and misunderstandings.

Here are the basics:

Never offer a child a choice when health or safety are at risk. “You can cross the street with me or figure it out on your own.” Obviously impossible. When dealing with issues of health, safety or the law, you are the parent and you make the decisions. No discussion.

Once a choice has been offered, allow only a reasonable length of time for the child to decide. We all know that children can procrastinate for an incredibly long time. So it’s a simple, “It’s time to leave.” “Either you decide whether to have an apple or orange for snack or I will decide for you.” Polite, respectful and clear.

Don’t offer a child a choice that will seriously inconvenience other people. “You can sleep wherever you want.” Unless you are prepared to turn any part of your home into a bedroom, offer instead the choice of red pyjamas or yellow pyjamas.

Language is everything. “If you don’t eat your dinner you can’t have anything until morning and then you’ll be hungry,” is a threat and lecture all in one. Try to avoid using the word if because it connotes a threat and can easily develop into a power struggle. Instead offer a real choice and allow the child to figure out the consequences; “You have a choice; you can either eat your dinner or you can wait until the next meal.” Or “You have a choice, you can eat your dinner now or you can have it for bedtime snack.” By using this option the child is still waiting until the next regular eating time and is eating the nutritionally sound meal rather than a less healthy snack option.

Rarely offer an open choice. “What do you want for dinner?” She is likely to choose something that is simply not appropriate but you are stuck with it.  So offer between two choices or how the meal will be cooked. But keep it simple and offer few choices.

Never offer a choice that is an empty threat. There are times when you must become involved with the decisions your children make. In other words, there are times when misbehavior is not one of the choices and you must be prepared to remove the child from the situation.

For example, when you are visiting friends your child needs to understand that appropriate behavior is a pre-requisite to staying and playing. The choice is, “You can change your behavior and stay or we can go home.” Don’t make this statement unless you are prepared to leave. You may have a responsibility to leave a good party in order to help your child learn how to handle social situations in the future.

Choices need to be offered within the context of house rules, safety and health. There are some choices children cannot make and some that they can. The trick is to recognize the difference, maintain our responsibility as parents and allow our children choices in all appropriate situations.

Are all four-year-olds alike?  Absolutely not!

Sarah is shy, Jared is bossy and Pat is Easy-Going. What do we need to know about different temperaments?

One thing we learn about kids is that every child is unique and different.  My mini guide e-book, Vive la Différence: Raising Children with Different Temperaments addresses some of the temperaments we see in our kids.

I looked at my two children who are as different as night and day. Then I consider my siblings and we are a textbook example of different.

But, now I have three grandchildren, all the same age and the differences from their births has been striking.

The result is the e-parenting mini guide, Vive la Différence: Raising Children with Different Temperaments. The guide is available on my website.

How Can I Bring Kathy to My Community?

I offer keynotes and workshops,  have written books and have ongoing newspaper columns, books, blogs and newsletters.

And, no matter what the actual topic, they all share a basic value that I call:

P.U.R.E. Parenting.

P — is a parenting plan

U — is unconditional love

R — is respect for your child as he is right now

E — is encouragement


I look forward to working with you for your professional development, workplace wellness or parenting education event.




Posted in Discipline, Family Concerns, News, Preschoolers, School-Age, Teens, Toddlers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

One Response to Why You Should Not Say “If” To Kids

  1. Mary says:

    Good advice

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