Choices empower and promote good feelings about self. Always offer choices that will be acceptable to both you and your child. If you suggest a choice that you know your child will reject, you did not provide any genuine choice at all. For example, a choice to do what I tell you or go to time out does not provide any acceptable options for the child. Any time you include punishment you miss a chance to help your child feel empowered.
Simple choices that do not matter to you seem important to a baby or young child. Any time you can do so, provide choices that make absolutely no difference to you. Do this to strengthen your child’s feelings about themselves. Recently I heard a mother tell her ten-month-old baby that the baby could choose to either wear a blue dress or the green one. When the baby reached out for one of the dresses, the mother responded, “Good choice. You will feel good in this dress.” Consider a few additional examples for babies and toddlers:
· “You can choose to feed yourself or I can feed you with this spoon. You choose.”
· “You can play with this toy or find another one. You decide.”
· “Would you like to doodle while I read to you, or do you prefer to sit still and listen?” (My experiences with children indicate that doodling while listening increases understanding of the message.)
· “We can play together, or you can play by yourself. What sounds good to you?”
If you offer choices, you will need to accept your child’s preferences. Failure to do so will feel disrespectful to them. When your child gets a little older, choices may include options such as the ones listed below. There will be times when you do not offer any options that totally fit what they want. For example, hitting the family dog with a stick is not a choice. However, they can choose to play with the dog gently or they can choose to play in their imaginary store. As you read the ideas below about giving choices to a school-age child, notice that an option about whether to complete homework is not offered.
· “You may do your homework now or after we eat.”
· “You may want to study at your desk, or you may prefer to study at the kitchen table.”
· “Would you like to have a snack while you read your book? It’s up to you.”
· “Some people enjoy background music without words when they study. You may choose to listen or to work quietly.”
If your child insists on a choice they want, such as playing roughly with the dog, you say, “That is not one of your choices.” However, if they want something that you believe will be healthy and fun, you can say, “Thanks for your good idea. What a thinker you are. Go for it!”