Should parents let kids make choices about their lives? I believe giving kids choices as a parenting hack is super useful when done appropriately. To illustrate, look at the stories below and see if you can find the reasons it works so well.
When my kids were young, it was a frustrating experience to get them into their snowsuits. They wanted to go out, but didn’t want to wear the clothing that would keep them warm. What kind of logic do little kids have?!
I decided to give a choice: let them decide which leg goes in first. Wow! That worked like a charm! Also, I let them pick the mitts or the hat. I didn’t ask, “Would you like to get dressed now?” They were getting snowsuits on and that was it!
Bedtime was another difficult time especially for my second son. It was so hard to give up playing with toys and having fun.
I gave one or two choices that really worked: I asked him whether he’d like to sing the ABCs as we went upstairs, or count the stairs. He immediately zeroed in on going upstairs and made his decision.
Another time I would ask him which story he’d like to read after tooth-brushing and give a choice of two books for him to consider. When he thought about it, he chose one and headed for the stairs.
When my kids were older, I continued to give choices because they were so effective!
Getting Up For School
That warm bed was so hard to leave to start the day. My son dragged his feet and had a terrible time getting up in the morning.
I decided to give him the choice of having me waken him, or getting his own alarm clock (that we would set together) that would tell him when to get up. He chose the alarm clock, and, because he made the decision, he abided by his choice and we had no further problems.
Food was another area that presented conflict. I had a picky eater who would only eat food that was white. If left to his own devices, white bread, rice, potatoes and pasta would have been his only diet. My efforts to force him to eat veggies were a lost cause and had caused horrible scenes at the dinner table. I racked my brain to come up with a choice I could offer him that would solve the problem.
What I did, was to change the way I served food at the table. Instead of serving portions to everyone, I presented the food in different bowls on the table. I stopped making a white food for awhile and chose interesting veggies and foods that were healthy and had visual appeal. Everyone could serve him/herself and I stopped urging my son to eat. When the pressure was off, and he saw everyone taking food from the bowls, my son decided, on his own, to try some of the healthy food. I also let the kids know that food would be served again at the next meal, so realizing that there would be little in the way of snacks until then, they ate their food. My picky eater began to appreciate colorful, tasty, healthy food. As an adult, he always tries new foods.
Why It Works
What do you see as the two reasons that giving choices worked with my kids? Here is my answer:
1. Refusing to get into a power struggle and to try to force them produced a feeling of calm. There was no win-lose situation. As a parent who looked out for her kids’ best interests, I guided them to the action that was good for them, but let them choose how they were going to do it. Their ability to choose was empowering for them and they felt valued when asked to make the choice.
2. Steering the kids to the path I wanted them to take avoided meltdowns and arguments. One of my boys got a lot of attention in former days from engaging me in conflict. He became the “bad” boy, and wanted to protest every step I wanted him to take. I fell for it and ended up giving him attention for misbehavior instead of for cooperation. When I realized my mistake and started to give attention for positive behavior and took the arguing away by giving choices that allowed him to have input in decisions, he had no need to oppose me to get attention. Our home became happier and healthier.
To sum up, giving kids choices is a wonderful way to avoid tension and stress in your family. You, their parent, is in charge and is mapping out the route you want them to take. You offer them smaller choices within your large one (your decision on what is necessary for their wellbeing). They enjoy having some say and usually respond positively.
You’ll find you feel so much better than when you’re the boss giving orders that are resented or disputed.
I’m available to help if you have questions or concerns about your family life. Please be in touch by commenting below.
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