Rather than making demands, offering limited options can be very effective. When children refuse to respond to requests, they frequently react to choices, especially when you follow the choice with, “You decide.” Choices should be respectful and focus attention on the situation’s needs. Giving children options gives them a sense of power and control over their actions, which is a step toward maturation.
Giving choices may be the single most helpful tool parents have for managing life with young children. Until the age of five, it’s almost like a magic wand. Choices help children learn to control themselves even as they enter adolescence.
Why does this simple technique work so well? This is because it is a win-win situation. You’re happy because you’re only giving options that you like. She gets to choose one that she likes, so she’s pleased. You avoid the power struggle because you aren’t forcing her to do anything; she decides. Within your limits, the child is in charge. Nobody enjoys being forced to do something. She cooperates here because she chooses to.
An excellent way to start giving children choices is to select two or three things and let them choose from them.
Allowing children to make these choices is simple:
When getting dressed, you can say, “Would you like your striped or orange shirt?” Even if they choose a third option (such as their polka dot dress), they’ve still accomplished the overall goal of getting dressed.
When in the park or any other fun place to help them understand that they will be leaving soon, you can say, “In two minutes, we’ll be on our way. Do you want to take another turn on the swing or go down the slide?” or “It’s time for you to put your shoes on. Do you want me to put them on for you, or do you want to try them first?”
Children resist cleaning up; giving them a choice between two small tasks can increase the chances they help out. You can try, “Would you like to put away the blocks or the books?” or “Do you want to sweep the glass with a broom or spray and squeegee it?”
Even a well-established bedtime routine for your child can include some options, as long as there aren’t too many and the options don’t stray too far from the goal of getting to bed calmly. You can start with, “Tonight, we’ll read one book. Here are two options for you to consider: Which one do you prefer?” Offering options can be a great strategy when your child is delaying parts of your routine. “Would you like me to carry you, or do you want to hop to bed?” you can ask if they’re still playing when it’s time to get into their crib or bed.
Many children enjoy helping with food preparation. This can be difficult when you’re in a hurry, but there are some simple ways to give your child options. “Which fruit slices would you like for your snack, apples or oranges?” you can ask. “Would you like to eat your snack at the counter or the table?” or “Would you like to eat your snack at the counter or the table?”
Others believe that the illusion of choice works for a lot of ages. Here are additional ways how to use this magic wand. You can give options like “Would you like a warm bath or cold bath?” while others choose a bath or a shower.
Choices work in many circumstances but think of it as giving them limited options and not fake choices. Every day’s limited decisions can vary from choosing the bath sponge’s color, the toothpaste’s flavor, and where to sleep. This technique can help build a healthy parent-child relationship and avoid unnecessary power struggles.
Remember that you should use choices where you are okay with either outcome. You can use “Do you want to leave now or in 5 minutes?” It can be surprising how often the kid chooses ‘now.’ Kids sometimes don’t realize the unspoken inevitable. Like, “Do you want me to help you put on your socks, or do you want to do it yourself?” The socks are going on either way.
Giving your child options rather than confronting his resistance with force leads to a power struggle and, in the end, a more resistant child; you affirm his right to some control, but only within the limits you set. As a result, your child will be happier and more cooperative because he knows you’re on his side.