All people like having choices because it makes us feel in control. Our brains are wired to equate control with a better chance of survival, and so choice feels good. We can use this biological mechanism in our parenting. Allowing children to have choice in their lives will help them develop better decision making skills and allow them to have that much desired sense of control. Often children who have the power to make their own choices are more willing to complete tasks, as opposed to when they are just told what to do.
Here are 4 tips for using the power of choice with your kids:
1. Give options for everyday tasks. For example, “Would you like to have cereal or pancakes for breakfast?” or “Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt today?” or “Would you like to do your homework before a snack or after a snack.”
Keep choices simple in the beginning. Giving children too much to choose at one time can cause them to feel confused or even frustrated.
2. Make space for emotions, then give choices. Observe your child and notice if there is a time when they often become frustrated or upset. If you notice your child is having a hard time with their bedtime routine, add choice into their bedtime schedule. Maybe they want to have a bath before dinner instead of after dinner. Maybe they want to read in your bed instead of their bed before lights out.
3. Allow children to make hard choices. For example, let’s say your child is supposed to clean their room every Friday in order to have a playdate on the weekend. If the weekend rolls around and they have not cleaned their room, then let them make that choice. If they don’t want to clean their room, they don’t have to. But then they are not allowed to have a playdate. If the child is aware of the consequence, that allows the child to make a choice. Then, when the child chooses to clean their room next time, they will be able to have a playdate again.
4. Get creative with choices. Stay open to creative ideas – kids are full of them! Ask your child what ideas they can think of for birthday parties, family trips, or family movie night. Be open-minded to your kids’ ways of doing things, and your life might get a little more interesting.
Of course there will be times where children cannot have choices, but finding times to allow choices will help children have a sense of control and develop confidence. Children may not be able to choose what time they need to go to school, but they can have control over their morning routine. It’s important for parents to understand the power of choice, and remember, giving your kids choices should not make your day harder. On the contrary, it should create more independence for your kids allowing you to spend a little less energy.
Here’s to Your Well Being!
Melyssa Laycock, LSW