I have taught, in almost all my classes, that giving children choices is one of the best parenting techniques that you can use.
1. Foster independence
2. Promote decision making skills
3. Show respect to kids
4. Give kids limited control
5. Empower kids
6. Foster language development
The list can go on and on. This past summer, I read an article that called this technique into question. Atlantic.com posted an article: How To Land Your Child In Therapy
In the article the author said:
“The message we send kids with all the choices we give them is that they are entitled to a perfect life—that, as Dan Kindlon, the psychologist from Harvard, puts it, “if they ever feel a twinge of non-euphoria, there should be another option.” Mogel puts it even more bluntly: what parents are creating with all this choice are anxious and entitled kids whom she describes as “handicapped royalty.”
As a parent, I’m all too familiar with this. I never said to my son, “Here’s your grilled-cheese sandwich.” I’d say, “Do you want the grilled cheese or the fish sticks?” On a Saturday, I’d say, “Do you want to go to the park or the beach?” Sometimes, if my preschooler was having a meltdown over the fact that we had to go to the grocery store, instead of swooping him up and wrestling him into the car, I’d give him a choice: “Do you want to go to Trader Joe’s or Ralphs?” (Once we got to the market, it was “Do you want the vanilla yogurt or the peach?”) But after I’d set up this paradigm, we couldn’t do anything unless he had a choice. One day when I said to him, “Please put your shoes on, we’re going to Trader Joe’s,” he replied matter-of-factly: “What are my other choices?” I told him there were no other choices—we needed something from Trader Joe’s. “But it’s not fair if I don’t get to decide too!” he pleaded ingenuously. He’d come to expect unlimited choice.
When I was my son’s age, I didn’t routinely get to choose my menu, or where to go on weekends—and the friends I asked say they didn’t, either. There was some negotiation, but not a lot, and we were content with that. We didn’t expect so much choice, so it didn’t bother us not to have it until we were older, when we were ready to handle the responsibility it requires. But today, Twenge says, “we treat our kids like adults when they’re children, and we infantilize them when they’re 18 years old.”
Like most of my peers, I’d always thought that providing choices to young children gave them a valuable sense of agency, and allowed them to feel more in control. But Barry Schwartz’s research shows that too much choice makes people more likely to feel depressed and out of control.”
After reading the article I started second guessing myself. Should I still be teaching parents to give choices to their kids?
I belong to the Positive Discipline parenting forum. I decided to throw this question out there and see what this lovely and bright group of Parent Educators had to say:
This is what Positive Discipline Instructor, Rachel Reyes, has to say about choices:
To make choices work for parents the following should be done:
Options need to be limited and the choices should be over something that doesn’t affect the entire family. For example:
“We are going to the grocery store, do you want to put on your shoes or do you want me to do it?”
“We are going to the grocery store today, do you want to go now or after lunch?”
Also, if a child chooses something that’s not one of the options (like unhealthy food) I will say,
“I’m sorry but that’s not one of the choices.”
Of course, it doesn’t always go as I’d like. Sometimes he whines about the choices available and refuses to choose. At that point I tell him I need an answer by the time I count to 5, or I get to choose.
You don’t have to give a choice for everything. The point of choices is to give children the opportunity to learn how to make decisions and to give them some feeling of control over their lives. If you choose everything for them while they’re young, how can you expect them to know how to make choices when you’re not around?
Stay tuned to hear what some other Positive Discipline Instructors have to say about choices…
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