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The Power of Choice

Many parents strive for a relationship of give-and-take, cooperation, and harmony with their children. One way to encourage a more cooperative atmosphere is to give choices.

It’s important that the choice is not IF something will be done, it should be WHEN or HOW. It’s not, “Will you put your pants on?” rather “Which pants will you put on, the blue or the black?” or for older children, “We’re going out to dinner at 6, what time will you be home so you can get ready?”.

Many parents don’t like this idea of choices as it gives them less control and predictability. For the same reason, our children don’t like NOT having choices, because they don’t have control or predictability. It’s not a matter of who has power or control, it’s a matter of distributing the control in such a way as to help the child gain experience while getting the work of the family done. Thus, it is important that the choices are acceptable to the parent. Free choice for children to do whatever they want, whenever they want, is not acceptable either. Freedom within limits is healthy and promotes problem solving, decision-making, and responsibility.

Here are some ideas about choosing when something will be done:

Allow them to choose if chores or homework get done immediately after school, before dinner, or right before bed (depending on the task). If it is a job that needs to be done at a certain time (for example, the dog needs to be fed before school), let them choose if they will feed upon getting up, after teeth are brushed, or after breakfast. If the dog follows them around for 30 minutes until he’s fed, the child is experiencing the consequences of not feeding the dog early enough.

Here are some ideas on choosing how something gets done:

Given that you’ve trained them on the task, for example, that the clothes need to go in the bathroom hamper, the books are put away in the book shelf neatly standing up straight, and the toys are put into the toy box neatly enough to put the top on, you agree to when the room will be cleaned up.

The process they use may be to:

  • Pick up all the clothes from floor (from all areas of the room)
  • Put away all the books (from all areas of the room)
  • Put the toys in toy box (from all areas of the room)
OR, they may:
  • Go to one corner of the room, put the toys, books and clothes from that corner away, then move on to next corner.
You may have a preference of your way of getting it done (and of course that is the “right way” – haha). Guess what…they have their “right way” too! As long as it’s getting done by the agreed-upon time, who cares?

Allowing them to select the method and the timing gives them some freedom and control. As well, it gives them the opportunity to learn what is efficient for them and what is not. Insisting on your logic and process takes away the necessary process of thinking it through, a process that develops their problem solving. It also diminishes their power and control by keeping you the one in charge. This will spawn power struggles in other areas. As well, it communicates that they don’t have to be responsible for anything because you will take the responsibility and just tell them what to do. How can they take responsibility if you don’t give it to them?

Try giving your children more and more choices as they grow and you will see more cooperation, greater independence, and competence.

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