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Offering our children choices is a wonderful option because naturally, children want to feel some sort of control over their lives. Disobedience is often the result of a child expressing this. Offering children choices when it comes to daily activities and when we are asking something of them can help them feel they have some sort of control over the situation and thus over their lives.
They will grow
Consider what it would feel like if someone had the authority to direct every part of your life. If they did this with dominance and a lack of empathy, that would end up feeling scary and depressing. You would probably find ways to fight against it and regain some independence. Children are no different. The problem is, they do not have enough brain development or life experience to make great choices all the time.
They grow in both these areas over time, but as we wait for those developments, we can help our children practice making good choices which will result in them feeling like they have some semblance of control over their lives. You will find they are happier, choose obedience more often and grow in responsibility through this practice.
There’s a trick to this
Before we get any further into this, I want to mention a bit of a trick here. Always offer two choices that are both acceptable to you. When you give choices, do not offer one that is the opposite of the other and not what you want them to choose. This may sound like common sense, but can be a hang up. Both choices need to good options!
Also, if you are looking for obedience, do not make one choice the ‘right’ choice and the other a punishment. For example, “Would you like to clean your room now or be grounded?” This is really not giving your child an opportunity to practice making a good choice and will not lead them to feeling any sense of control. Instead, you could ask, “Would you like to clean your room now or in 15 minutes?” Both options could be acceptable to you and gives the child the choice to just dive in and get the task done or get it done within a timeframe that is still totally appropriate.
Finally, another tip to keep in the back of your mind is that if your child is not willing to make a choice, you can offer to make the choice for them. You are offering them two options, but they may want neither. My kids rarely want to stop playing and complete a chore-like task or clean their room, even when given two choices like mentioned above. If they don’t want to take either of the options I am offering, now or in 15 minutes for example, I usually offer to make the choice for them. It will be one of the options I have given, but I will choose which one. They always opt to make the choice themselves. This still gives them the respect of making a choice and they feel like they had some control.
Real Life Examples
All of these examples really do come right out of my real life! As an educator, I have taken my share of courses on classroom management/discipline! I have then gotten to try it out on other people’s children as well as my own. I have come to believe that all children, regardless of age, want to be treated with respect and want to be trusted. When we offer these two opportunities in how we treat children, their positive response may really surprise you!
Not wanting to leave
Your little nugget is flailing on the ground because they do not want to leave your current location. You can ask, “Would you like to stand up and walk to the car. Or would you like me to pick you up and carry you?” Very often my children will not want to be carried and feel much more in control if they get to walk.
Your child (around 6-8 years old perhaps) is having a very rude reaction or your saying no to her request. “Would you like to respond to me with a kinder attitude and continue to speak or would you like to speak about this later?” Instead of responding with an attitude myself, this usually softens my daughter’s attitude. Often it even elicits an apology for how she is speaking towards me. It opens up communication between us so we can both share where we are coming from. My deepest desire in my parenting is to stay connected to my child’s heart in all interactions. Going down this road takes a little longer, but it keeps us on the path towards connection.
Your child (around 4-5 years old perhaps) takes a toy from his younger sister. By ‘he’, I mean my son Micah. And by ‘sister’, I mean my daughter Samara. “Micah, would you like to give that toy back to your sister and apologize? Or, would you like me to choose a different toy for you to play with in another room?” Either way, Samara gets her toy back. Micah can either continue to be included by staying in the same room with us or can choose another space to be in.
Not cleaning up
Your children have built a massive blanket fort in the living room and moved on to playing outside without cleaning it up. You have a friend coming over so need the fort cleaned up immediately. You can still offer a choice! “Would you guys like to come in and quickly clean up your fort before our friends get here? Or would you like me to do it for you, but owe me 10 minutes of chore work later?” This is an opportunity for children to see that your time is worth something as well as get to make a choice.
Refusing to get dressed
Your four year old refuses to get his clothing on when you need to get out the door in the morning. This can really slow you down and cause your morning to be stressful. “Would you like to get your clothes on before breakfast or after?” Now, this may not be the perfect option because clothing may not be as clean after breakfast. But a drip on a shirt may be more acceptable than the fighting. An alternative is to offer a choice about the actual clothing. “Would you like to wear this shirt or this shirt?” I would argue that refusing to get dressed could easily just be about the child wanting some control. So, see if these two options help with that.
Lots of opportunities
This list is endless, really. If we slow down and take the time to offer choices, we may be surprised how well our children respond. They are little people with wants, desires and opinions. We can choose to treat them that way. In the end, it will provide great benefits for their personal development as well as help keep our relationship with them in tact.
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