Offering children choices from an early age has many benefits. It gives them a sense of control and is an important part of growing up. Putting your toddler in charge of making decisions may seem like a bad idea, but we are in charge of the options. So while your child feels like they are in control, they still are choosing from options you want them to choose from, making it a win-win situation.
Why offer choices?
1. Builds confidence
When a child makes a good choice, they feel a sense of satisfaction and pride. They feel happy that it worked out the way they wanted it to and this feeling of pride continues to support their decision making as they grow into adulthood.
2. Empowers them
Children have very little control in regards to most things in their lives, especially in the initial years. Offering them choices in simple things, helps them feel empowered. They feel valued and content that their voice is heard.For example, ask your child to choose between two options to be made for dinner.
3. Develops critical thinking skills
Making a choice isn’t easy and requires the child to think critically before they can make a decision. For example, when deciding what to wear, a child needs to think about the weather and the activity they will do before they can pick out an appropriate outfit. At first, you might scaffold the decision making by providing options that are already appropriate for the event, but gradually they will learn to critically think and decide for themselves.
4. Enhances problem solving
Sometimes a choice your child makes might not work out the way they had anticipated. They are compelled to think of an alternative choice for the next time. For example, if your child chooses not to wear socks with their shoes and then ends up getting blisters, they will either choose different shoes the next time or wear socks. This is an important skill for them to develop and providing them with choice supports just that.
5. Prevents meltdowns
Meltdowns and tantrums are not fun for everyone. We often find our children feeling big emotions over what we might consider to be something so insignificant. The truth is that their big emotions are not a product of the temperature of the water or the color of their cup, it is the lack of control. If you asked them whether they wanted the pink or yellow cup, chances are that they wouldn’t have had the meltdown because they got to choose the color.
6. Decision making skills
As they grow, they continue to feel empowered to make their own decisions and are confident enough to follow through without always second guessing themselves. As they go out in the corporate world, they are more likely to take calculated risks fostered by their creativity and innovation.
When can you offer choices ?
1. Morning routine
When your child first wakes up, it might be hard to get them dressed quickly and out of the house. Prevent the power struggle by offering your child choice - would you like to wear pants or shorts today? Would you like to brush your teeth first or put on your clothes first? Instead of telling them what to do, asking them to choose between two options will empower them and make them feel like they have a voice which is likely to get them to get dressed quicker.
2. Bath time
Many children love bath time but some don’t want to stop what they are doing and fight it. Ask your child if they want to have a bath or a shower. You they like bubbles or a bath bomb. Would them like mom or dad to give them a bath.
3. Bedtime routine
Winding down before bedtime can be a challenge. Again, giving your child the option to choose what they want to do before bed makes it smoother. Would you like to read this book of this one tonight (hold up two)? Would you like to wear your striped pajamas or your polka dotted ones? Offering limited choice is likely to help you achieve your goal and get your child to smoothly get through their bedtime routine.
4. Cleaning up
Putting things away can be overwhelming for young children and they might choose to rebel if it seems like an impossible task. Breaking it down and asking them if they would like to pick up the blocks first or the cars makes it seem more achievable.
5. Meeting new people
Stranger anxiety is common among toddlers and forcing them to interact with new people can be stressful. Instead of telling your child what to do, ask them if they would like to give a hi 5 or a fist bump. Honoring their comfort is crucial for them to develop a relationship with a new person.
6. Meal time
Toddlers enjoy being involved in meal prep and choosing what they would like to eat. If they are involved in the two, they are more likely to eat the meal without any fuss. Give them two choice for dinner - would you like to eat rice or a paratha tonight? Would you like to lay the table or fill water today? Would you like to eat with the small or big spoon?
Tips to remember
1. Provide two options only
Asking a young child an open ended question can be overwhelming and defeat the purpose of preventing big emotions. Instead of asking, “What would you like to eat?” ask, “Would you like an apple or a banana?”. This makes it easier for them to choose and sets them up for success.
2. Provide visuals
Sometimes abstract concepts can be hard for a toddler to choose from. Providing a picture or a drawing of the options in such situations will help. Visuals also help remind the child of the options. For example, if their options are two different parks, displaying pictures of the parks will help them understand their choices better.
3. Rewards and consequences
Just like everything else, rewards and consequences should also have choices. “You’ve been working so hard to tidy up the room. When you are done would you like to blow bubbles or read with me?” or “I noticed you said some words that were not kind to your friend. Would you like to apologize or make her a card?”