Guidelines for offering kids choices


The beauty of parenting workshops is that the practical, useful and down-to-earth information stays with parents. I have often heard from parents months and years after a workshop. They will let me know how the workshop shaped their parenting practices. I recently received an email that just made my day and I want to share it with you.

“Twenty-two years ago I attended one of your parenting presentations in White Rock. You made a huge impact on me that night and I left feeling that I wasn’t such a bad parent after all. You gave me strength to continue the way I was parenting despite the trend to do differently. I now have two adult children who are teachers and have great compassionate hearts. I am enjoying reading your column in the local paper.

The advice that stuck with me that night was to let my children make choices as long as they are guided in their options. After that evening I really listened to my son about his wish, at 13, to get his ear pierced and he got it done. I had never seen him happier thank you for your common sense words of wisdom.”

So, let’s talk about choices in this newsletter.

Parenting Today not only offers this newsletter. We have two books in print or digital format and 3 audio books on the website, and I am always keen to speak at your workplace, at your conference or at your professional development event. As you can see, the information parents receive will stay with them for a long time.

And now. What about offering kids choices?

Offer your children choices

Offering your children choices is a very effective and worthwhile way to allow them to get involved in decision-making and have them 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.

• 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 on the choice between an apple or an orange for an incredibly long time.

• 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 “if” as that 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 now or you can wait until the next meal.” Or “You have a choice, you can eat your dinner now or 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. “You can eat whatever you want for meals.” 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. (If a child doesn’t eat much, it is important that what she eats be worthwhile.)

• 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 visiting the child needs to understand that appropriate behavior is a pre-requisite to remaining. The choice is, “You can change your behavior and stay or we can go home.” Only use when you are prepared to leave and understand you may have a responsibility to leave a good party in order to help you child 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 have 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.

Have you had a good experience offering choices? Do you have a question about choices? Reply below.  We would love to hear from you.


Posted in Discipline, Infants, News, Preschoolers, School-Age, Teens, Toddlers | 2 Comments

2 Responses to Guidelines for offering kids choices

  1. Vreni Meier says:

    Hello Kathy, I value your newletters. Would it b e possible to receive them in a larger print?
    Thank you very much.

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