Parenting - Giving Children Choices. Part II

Posted on: Mon, 08/09/2021 - 09:46
By: Richard Lange, Ph.D., LPC, LCSW


In the last blog post, I talked about how giving children choices gives them some sense of power and control in their lives. Remember, children all day long are being told what to do. By providing children small choices in their lives, they feel that they have some say or some ability to make decisions independently. 

In this part, we continue to discuss two different “choices” methods, the “forced choice” and the “alternative choice.”

Some children will refuse to make a choice.  For example, you said to your child, “do you want to have milk or orange juice with your breakfast?”. Now, just to test to see if they have any power, some children will respond, “Neither, I am not going to choose.”   

There are two ways of dealing with this.  First, if the child is under six years (somehow it doesn’t work for children over six), you simply say, “Well, neither is a choice, I will give you one last chance to choose, and if you don’t make a choice, I will choose for you.”  Surprisingly young children will always give in (they don’t want the power to be taken from them), “OK, I’ll take the milk.”

Over six, they might not buy this and dig their heels in: “I don’t care; I’m not going to drink either.”  Here you can switch to the “alternative choice.”  

“OK, maybe you are not in the mood for milk or orange juice. What would you like to drink? But one of the choices cannot be soda.” (Notice here you are giving what are called limited choices—this, this, but not this.)  The child might have in mind they wanted to drink all along. “I want cholate milk.”  Problem solved. 

Or it could be possible they were just testing their power, and they might be thrown off that they can make a choice and are not prepared to decide what to drink, so they might ask, “What else do you have to drink.” So here again, you can use the limited choices, “Well, you can have cholate milk, water, yogurt drink, but no soda.”