Parenting - Giving Children Choices. Part III

Posted on: Tue, 08/31/2021 - 11:44
By: Richard Lange, Ph.D., LPC, LCSW


Giving Children Choices Part Three


When I was raising my two boys, I was learning about giving choices.  One winter's day, we took a walk in Washington Crossing State Park.  It was here I decided to practice my new skill.


"OK, guys, we can take this trail or that trail. What's your choice?"

"Do you want to rest now, or shall we keep going?" 

"I have a snack; do you want an orange or an apple?"  


Sometimes they would ask me to do something.


"Can we go explore that area?"  

"Can we sit on the stone wall?"


I would consciously try to frame it as a choice. "Yes, that is a good choice. I'm glad you thought of that." Rather than saying, "Yea" or simply "OK.” But this is not the point of the story. What happened next during the trip, I found amazing. 

We came to a very unsafe-looking bridge. It was ice-covered and looked poorly constructed. Ed immediately asked, "Can we cross the bridge?" Instinctively I would respond with a loud "No!" But I calmed myself and said, "OK guys, you know I have been giving you choices this whole trip, but this time there is no choice here, that bridge is unsafe and icy, there is no choice, we are not crossing it." 

To my amazement, both agreed, and we continued walking.  Why was this so amazing?  Ed was one of those kids that if you told him not to touch something, he had to touch it.  I wouldn't say he was oppositional, but it was close. I think this was the first time Ed simply did what I asked without an argument or even ten thousand reasons why he should cross the bridge.  

To be honest, it was just a good guess that I phrased my response that way ("Look, I been giving you choices all along, there is no choice here."). Years later, I found out that this technique has an official name. It's called "Cashing in.”

I discovered this when watching a video lecture from the parenting program “Love and Logic.”  The lecturer described it as a bank account, you give children choices, lots of them, but when it comes to times that they cannot make a choice, you withdraw from the account. "Look, I've been giving you choices, but sometimes, I need to make a choice here." In general, children find this a reasonable argument and will not challenge you when you need to take over and choose for them.

One more thing about cashing in; it seems to work best if there is a reasonable explanation for not giving a choice.

"There is no choice here because it is unsafe." 

"There is no choice here because, as the grown-up, I understand that this is not going so well, so I will stop it now."

If the child wants a more detailed explanations about why they cannot choose, you should provide them. However, in my experience, if you carefully explain why, you are denying the choice, the first explanation is usually enough.