Giving Kids a Choice:

Create more calm and empower your child

by Adina Levy

Imagine you wake up in the morning at a time defined by someone else. You get up and get dressed in clothes that someone else has picked out for you.

Breakfast? Someone’s served you cornflakes, whether you like it or not. You are half-finished then someone whisks you off on your day’s adventures (which you didn’t get to choose, and you’re not even sure where you’re going today).

How does this make you feel?

Why is it so important to give your child choices?

When we have no choices, we don’t have ‘buy-in’. We’re not engaged in the activities we’re have to do.

Sure, you may momentarily feel the calm that comes with “I don’t have to make a decision, yippee!”. This feeling generally comes with the flip side of having the responsibility of making ALL the choices ALL the time, and it’s very natural to feel this as a parent.

Kids have SO many choices made for them daily. Even babies have the ability to make choices about their preferences, and as kids grow up they crave and need more chances to share their opinion and shape their world to reflect their own individual choices.

It might feel hard to give your child choices when you’re in the middle of a whirlwind of trying to get out of the house in the morning,  but adding a few moments of choice can actually make things easier, calmer and smoother for the whole family! I’m here to share a simple change you can make in your daily routines with your children that has SO many benefits. Adding opportunities for your child to make choices can:

1) Reduce the number of decisions you need to make (phew!)

2) Increase your child’s ‘buy-in’ to your daily routines, meaning they’re more willing to join in and go along with the things you have to do because they’ve had some say in it

3) Help your child feel their individual power in the world → their opinion and choices matter

4) Build communication skills → when we give a child an opportunity to make a choice, they have a VERY motivating reason to share their message with you

boys dress ups pretend play

When should I start offering my child choices

TODAY! There’s no age too young to start offering choices. Even tiny babies can start to indicate a preference between two objects by looking or reaching for an object.

How to add choices: Giving choices to kids at different communication stages

Babies and children who communicate with behaviours, reflexes and sounds: Hold out two objects and watch them closely to see which one they have a preference for.

Watch for eye movement, body movements, and reaching. Try offering 2 books, 2 foods, or 2 toys.

Little ones who are starting to use sounds and early word users: Hold out two objects, and say the word for each thing you’re offering. “Spot book? Or Animal book?” Repeat it 2-3 times!

Accept any communication attempt as their choice – they may look at their preferred thing, make a sound, look at you then look at the object, try to copy your word or sign/gesutre, or point. Label the thing they’ve chosen to give another chance to hear the word.

Early talkers who are using 1-2 words or signs: Offer two objects and say “Do you want banana? Or mandarin?”. Highlight the key words for the things they’re choosing between.

Kids who can talk and listen, and have simple conversations: You can offer more abstract things, like future plans for familiar routines, or talk abaout objects that aren’t right there. Do use the real objects where possible, but this isn’t always necessary. “Do you want to go to the park or the pool?”

Highlight your key words and repeat. You can give your child extra help making the choice by showing pictures of the places they’re choosing from.

How choice can help your whole family get the mundane daily routines done calmly!

Some things just have to get done.

Putting on pants.

Having dinner.

Brushing your teeth.

Give your child some of the power within these ‘must-do’ routines.  Try these ideas:

  • Your child can choose which chair to sit in at dinner
  • They can choose which parent will brush teeth next to them
  • Choose left leg or right leg first when putting on pants (you can just say “this leg or that leg?” while pointing to each leg)

girl frozen pretend play dolls

My challenge to you

What’s one extra choice that you can give you child tomorrow? How do you think it might change your child’s participation if you give them a choice?

Now, I know that making change is hard. You’ll need to REMIND YOURSELF to make the small but important change. Tell your partner your plan, or send me a super-quick email here to let me know! Add a reminder to your phone for 5 minutes before you plan to offer the new choice.

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