Part of raising children involves empowering them and equipping them to make their own decisions in life. One way to achieve this is to offer your kids choices. When choices are offered clearly, using careful consideration, the practice can become a useful tool in child-rearing.
Why It's Important to Offer Kids Choices
Offering kids choices where possible benefits children in numerous ways. Kids who consistently have some level of say in their choices in life feel valued by their parents. They also feel empowered to take on challenges, and they know they can handle making decisions for themselves as they grow up.
When choices exist in a relationship, children gain an increase in:
- Creative direction
- Problem-solving skills
- Respect for others
Kids are not the only ones who benefit from a relationship that involves choices. Parents also see their relationship with their children strengthen and grow when they build choice-making into it. The partnership between parent and child becomes a respectful one where both parties want to consider one another and work to satisfy each other's needs.
Do's And Don'ts of Choices
When it comes to giving kids choices, parents can follow some general guidelines to help make choice offering easy and productive for everyone involved.
Do Offer Choices Everyone Can Live With
Make sure that you are giving your kids options that you can live with. If you are going to paint your son's bedroom, give him two color options that are both suitable. Don't offer a top choice in your mind and then a color that you will hate. When dinnertime rolls around, offer two meal options that you readily have on hand, and you feel offer nutritional benefits to your kid. Chicken or ice cream for dinner is not a practical choice option. Chicken or fish sticks, on the other hand, is a practical option.
Don't Go Overboard With the Choices
Kids don't need to be faced with a boatload of overwhelming possibilities. When it comes to offering choices, sometimes less is more. For younger children especially, give kids two options to decide between. Older kids might be able to handle a few more options. Furthermore, as they grow older, kids will naturally face more than two options in many real-life situations. For children at that advanced development stage, teaching them how to process several choice options can be a valuable lesson they can carry with them throughout life.
Do Recognize When Choices Are Not Possible
There are going to be plenty of times in your parenting journey when offering choices isn't possible. That's okay! Just as presenting choices is beneficial to kids, teaching them when choices aren't an option is also critical. Lots of aspects of their life will not be choice-based. Things like going to school, brushing their teeth, getting shoes on before heading out the door, wearing a seatbelt, or staying with a parent in public are not choice-based activities. Safety-related activities are never choice-based. Kids don't have a choice as to whether or not they wear a helmet while riding a bike.
Do Put a Time Limit on Choice Selection
Kids might need a few minutes to process their choices, but generally, they don't need all day to decide whether to brush their teeth or comb their hair first. If you have a little procrastinator in your family, set time limits on choice making. Tell your child upfront how long they have to decide between the given choices, and set a timer if you must. Kids need to know that having a choice doesn't include choosing to drag out chores or tasks. Many things in life have to get done in a timely fashion.
Examples of Giving Children Choices in Daily Life
What do real choices look like in everyday life? Here are some common choices that parents or caregivers might offer their children:
- Do you want to do your math or your science homework first?
- You can load the dishwasher or put the clean dishes away. I will do the task you do not choose.
- If you help with making dinner, you can earn extra screen time, or we can go for a second bike ride tonight.
- We have green beans and peas. Which one would you like with your dinner?
- There is an Animal Safari summer camp or an All About Bugs summer camp. Which one do you think would be better for you?
- We have 20 minutes to play a board game; go ahead and choose between checkers or Candy Land.
- Would you like your lunch at the breakfast bar or on the patio today?
- You have a bike and a scooter. Which one would you like to take out today?
- Please choose to brush your teeth first or brush your hair first.
Notice that whichever one of the choices gets chosen is likely one that a parent can live with. In many cases, offering choices means the child picks one task to do first. This doesn't mean that the other task gets ignored. It simply means the choice lies in the order in which things get done.
Making Choices: A Practice Where Everyone Wins
Sometimes you have to give a little to get a little. When parents loosen up their tight rein over kids by giving them some responsibility in life choices, they may feel as if they are losing control. They aren't losing anything. In fact, they are gaining the ability to be flexible and to be a partner, mentor, and guide in their children's decision-making process. By providing choices to children, parents teach their kids that they trust them to make good decisions and that they value their ideas and input. Kids who feel loved and valued are more likely to exhibit kind and constructive behavior. Kids feel better about their lives, and parents feel better about their parenting. Everybody wins.