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Do We Control or Empower?

During the times when life seems to roll over and crush me, I find personal strength in considering my choices. By recognizing options, I find that I can mobilize myself into positive behaviors. I believe children experience the same empowerment when provided with legitimate choices concerning behaviors. Isn’t that what we really want? Don’t we want our children and grandchildren to identify positive choices that propel them toward healthy growth? Instead of controlling or manipulating children, we can provide opportunities for them to either make good choices or live with the consequences.

Allowing a child to determine choices reduces resistance and promotes self-responsibility. Create choices that offer genuine positive and acceptable alternatives. Saying, You may listen or lose your treat offers no choice at all. Stretch your own thinking to offer real, legitimate choices that do not involve punishment and will be agreeable to both you and the child. Keep in mind that you do not have to punish a child to effectively redirect. The following examples suggest types of acceptable choices.

  • You may listen or move slightly away from the group.

  • You may do chores now or after we eat.

  • You may sit at your desk or move to the floor to do your work.

  • You may have a snack while studying if you choose.

  • You may listen to quiet instrumental music while you work or study quietly.

Offer choices that you can live with. A child may say, I don’t want either _____ or _____. I want _____.Your reply will be, That behavior is not a choice. However, you may either do . . . (repeat your choices). Make certain you stick with the choices you offered unless the child makes a suggestion that you believe is valid and acceptable to you.

Strengthening Choices

At an early age, children begin to understand choices. For example, one child snatches a toy from another who immediately begins to cry. You say We have a problem. Joy is crying. Both of you want the same toy. How can we solve this? Initially, you will probably need to suggest a few possibilities such as You could wait until Joy has finished playing with this toy. You could offer her a different one as a trade. You could look for a toy just like the one she has. You could play together. You may finally say, I see we can’t find an answer. Until we can think of a solution, I’ll keep this toy.

Strengthen the importance of making good choices even more by asking, Did you make a good choice when you snatched the toy from your friend? Regardless of the answer, ask, Did your choice make you happy? You can make choices that help you feel good or you can make choices that make you feel bad. It’s up to you. Either way, I love you.

When a child recognizes available choices, the child feels in control of themself. Our ultimate goal, to help children choose well for themselves, becomes a reality when we empower them by presenting personal choices.

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