“Do you want to set the table or clear the plates after dinner?” Most of us know that offering choices is often a key to gaining cooperation when children are resistant to doing something. Ask a toddler who is balking at leaving the house if he’d rather run or walk to the car and watch his motivation change. But compliance isn’t the only benefit to providing choices.
Practice making decisions helps children create a pathway for trusting their intuition and feeling competent in the world. Adults support their growth by remembering to offer choices and noticing children’s budding abilities to make good ones. We can strengthen even the youngest child’s capacity for positive decision making by recognizing when it happens. “I think you checked in with your body and made a good choice to rest.” Creating Rituals Some families have been successful setting a time every week to make choices about chores. Each Saturday everyone in the family chooses a job they want for the week, even small tasks like putting forks on the table. There can also be a Saturday ritual for choosing a form of entertainment, with a different family member deciding on a game or movie each week. Bedtimes can also include a ritual for reflecting the day’s choices: “I’m glad I chose to call my friend rather than watching TV. It turns out she was really lonely.” Weighing and Balancing It’s never easy to be certain about the choices we want to give children. We all know there is a thin line between helping children to be capable decision makers and giving in so much that they become demanding, entitled beings. It’s good to remember that children get anxious when they can pull adults into giving in on boundaries or time limits they’ve already set. Part of development is learning to respect other people’s choices, whether they are teachers, family, or friends. “Your sister said she didn’t want to play; let’s respect that.”
One of the barometers of good decision making at any age is our ability to talk about the process and grow in understanding of ourselves and each other.
This Psychology Today article has wonderful ideas for handling choice giving with children.