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Giving Kids Choices

You've heard that it's good idea to give kids choices, right?  I would agree that it is good to give kids choices, but there are a few things you want to avoid when you give kids choices.

First of all, there are some things about which kids shouldn't be given choices at all. There are times that parental decisions need to be made, and children have no business making those kinds of decisions for the family. Decisions that affect family finances are one of those areas.

So, don't put yourself in a box as a parent, giving children a choice about something that you really don't want to give them. Don't give them a choice about something about which they have insufficient knowledge, experience and wisdom. 

That's your call, not theirs, despite what you've heard about giving children choices. You don't want to get stuck thinking that you always have to give your children choices.

When you do give children choices, make sure that you do so in a way that fits their developmental level.  With a preschooler, don't give choices with multiple options.  Make it simple--two options.  "Would you like me to read you a book or would you like to play a game?" 

If children are overwhelmed with multiple options, they become discouraged. Children get confused when there are too many options, and instead of becoming confident in their decision making, they instead become reluctant to make decisions and distrust their ability to decide. So, again, even with older children, no more than three options,  please.

I implied another important thing about giving children choices in a previous paragraph, namely don't give children a choice about something you can't live with. For example, say you're out shopping for shoes, and you ask your daughter whether she wants the tennis shoes with the flashing soles or the black patent leather dress shoes. You give her the choice, but you know she needs dress shoes to wear for church.  Shouldn't have given her that choice, because you know the ones she's going to pick.

Here's where you want to be careful.  No doubt, your daughter picks the flashing-soled tennis shoes.  You gave her the choice, and since you did, live with it! You don't want to say to your daughter, "Oh, honey, but you can't wear those tennis shoes to church and you need shoes for church.  Let's get the black patent leather ones."

Doing so, you have now discouraged your daughter by implying that she made a bad choice, when she didn't have all the adult information she needed to make the "right" choice.  When she chose the flashing-soled tennis shoes, that was the right choice for her. But by changing her decision, you essentially told her she made the wrong choice.  She may now question her ability to make good decisions in the future.

How about when children are given a choice, they make the choice and are unhappy afterwards with the choice that they have made? No coming to the rescue, here.  If you've given the child an appropriate choice, whatever the choice that is made, the child needs to learn to accept the consequence of that choice. 

After the child's disappointment has lessened, this is the teachable moment. This is a great time to say something like "I know you're disappointed with the choice you made. What do you think you can learn from the situation?"

As a final note, giving kids choices can sometimes be a bit overblown. In addition to learning how to make good choices, they also need to learn that there are times when they don't have choices, as is the case for all of us. Sometimes the only choice we have is to be comfortable accepting things as they are or be miserable. But that's for another post.

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