When offering choices works

Should you offer your kids choices?


I hope you’re enjoying the lovely summer weather and the extra time with your kids.

We have heard that it’s a good idea to offer our kids choices, and it is but there are some factors to consider when you are ready to offer your child a choice. Let’s take a look.

Offering Children Choices Takes Some Thought

“Put on your jacket, it’s cold outside.”

“It’s not that cold and anyway that jacket is ugly.”

“Wear the jacket or you’ll catch cold.”

“I’ll be okay in my sweater. I never get cold.”

And on it goes. Much nicer is, “It’s cold today. Do you want to wear the green jacket or the blue coat?” Not argument, just a choice.

Offering your children choices is a very effective and worthwhile way to allow them to get involved in decision-making and feel some ownership of and control over their own behavior.

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. It’s a simple, “It’s time to leave. Either you decide whether to wear the jacket or coat or I will decide for you.” Polite, respectful and clear.
  • Don’t offer a child a choice which 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 traditionally less valuable snack option.
  • Rarely offer an open choice. “What do you want for dinner?” Do you really want her living on crackers? As a matter of fact, this is ignoring your responsibility to help your child to eat a nutritionally well-balanced diet.
  • Never offer a choice which 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 responsibilities as parents and allow our children choices in all appropriate situations.

Digital Books Make Parenting Information More Accessible.

There are times when digital is the perfect answer and let’s face it, on a holiday having access to hundreds of books on one small tablet is ideal. I always have my kindle with me when I travel.

There are lots of times when a busy parent would like to be able to simply read and my books are digital and make it easier for you to take a look.

Two of my parenting books started as print versions but the third is only digital. The first two are also now in digital format. Who’s in Charge Anyway?talks about roots. It provides a clear road map for parent to focus on the tough but rewarding job of raising children to be responsible, self-disciplined adults.

But Nobody Told Me I’d Ever Have to Leave Home talks about raising children to become capable young men and women. The books are down to earth and common sense as well as easy to read. If you want some basic parenting tips and information these books are a good place to start.





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One Response to When offering choices works

  1. Kristi says:

    It is so good to read your article. I think this is the area where I see the biggest shift between parenting as a baby boomer vs parenting as a millennial. Even with my youngest, I allowed a lot more choices…but as your article points out, there are good and bad ways for offering choices.

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