Tip 21: Offer Your Children Choices

As adults we all like to be given choices.

Imagine the following scenario –

You get up in the morning and are running late and don’t have a lot of time to get ready. You are told what to do… what to wear, what and when to eat, to hurry up and not waste time…

Let’s say the dialogue goes like this:

“We are running late and it will be your fault if you are late for school. So I want you to go and have a quick shower now and don’t waste time and make sure you wash properly, remember your face. You can’t have breakfast until you do that so hurry up. No negotiation, you must be washed and dressed. But not until then!

There are left over sardines from the other day and some bread so that will do you for breakfast, too bad if you don’t like it. This isn’t a restaurant you know. And I want you to eat everything on your plate, or else!

We’re running late so get that into you quickly then load the dishwasher and wipe the benches. Make sure you hang the towel up too. Then hurry up and go make your bed, we’ve got 3 minutes to be out the door.”

Now let’s be honest who would respond to that positively, regardless of who it was doing the ordering around. How many of us would follow that happily and willingly with absolutely ‘no’ choices!

No one likes to be told ‘what to do’ and not be given choices. We wouldn’t talk to another adult like that (and if you did they would surely revolt!). So why would we speak to our children like that. By not giving choices you are going to be flat out gaining cooperation of any sort. Now imagine trying to gain your child’s cooperation in the above scenario. Good luck!

What about if we changed the dialogue just a bit.

You get up in the morning and say to your child:

“Good morning love. Today we have to work together to get ready quickly cause Mum has slept in and I want to help you to get to school on time but we only have a while to get ready. We all need to wash, have breakfast, make our beds and tidy the dishes. If we work together we should be able to do this and be on time.

Now, would you like to have a quick wash first or come and have breakfast? We don’t have a lot of time for a big breakfast so how does fruit and yoghurt sound or maybe cheese and tomato on toast.

How about we split the chores to make it faster? Would you rather do the beds or tidy the kitchen? If we all get going and work together we will make it on time to school.”

You may be thinking, “Lillian you are crazy. My kids wouldn’t do anything or hurry up at all if I gave them choices like that.”

My answer to you is to just try it. It might take a few goes for the children to understand they are being given choices. They’ll work out that if they cooperate it will work out better for them. Believe me they WILL get it!

I remember thinking that when Frank (we talked about him in ‘The Revolting Child’ book) suggested we let Caleb make choices about things we had tried in the past to ‘control’ I was a bit unsure. He said initially things may get worse. But he assured us that when Caleb saw that we were giving him some respect and treating him the way that we would like to be treated that he would start making better choices (without being asked or told!). And he did!

Remember we all like to be given choices.

Imagine getting dressed up to go out for dinner to a nice restaurant. You are seated and given the menu to ponder your choices. The waiter arrives with his order pad and pen poised. You select your meal choice and give the waiter your order. The waiter responds and says, “No you can’t have that. It’s only bangers and mash tonight and if you don’t like that too bad!”

This doesn’t mean you give your children a menu each night and say, “Take your choice. I’ll have your meal prepared soon.”

It could mean that you could do some compromise and have some choices even if only small ones. This way the children will at least feel like they are contributing to the choices. By asking for their opinion, even if it is just between one veggie and another, you are more likely to gain co operation.

This rule applies to most situations and you can actually word it to your benefit. For example, “Would you like to go out to the park after you’ve picked up your toys or would you rather stay home?” If they say they would rather go to the park, they have done so on the proviso of first picking up their toys. So you could follow up with, “Great, sounds like fun. As soon as you’ve picked up your toys we can get going.”

If they choose NOT to pick up their toys that’s okay, but they means they choose to stay home.

Please be sure to follow through if you do give your child choices. Otherwise your child will be confused about your ‘real intention’. Also be sure to offer choices that are viable, practical and sensible.

— Lillian

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