The first thing you need to do is figure out what you are willing to be flexible about and what you aren't. In my house a few of the things that my kids will not have a choice in are:
- The time they go to bed, it is 8:00 p.m. every night
- My 5 yr. old daughter does not have a choice of whether or not her hair is done
- Cleaning up after themselves
The next thing you need to do to give choices is start out small. Start out by letting your kids pick what they eat for breakfast, or how they do their hair that day, or what they would like to do with you. You don't want to overwhelm yourself or them. Once you are comfortable with giving your kids those choices then you can add other choices into your day.
Another important factor when giving kids choices is to only give them two options and make sure you are o.k. with both options and be firm with those choices. For example your kids want a snack so you say you may either have goldfish or yogurt. If they say they want cookies you say I am sorry that is not a choice right now, right now your choices are either goldfish or yogurt. Be a broken record! They are going to test you to see how many other choices you might give them - stick to the two you start with. If you bend and give your kids the cookie then they will learn that they don't have to listen to the choices they are given and if they fight the choices then eventually you will give them what you want and you are now running a permissive household. Also if my kids haven't made a choice after a few minutes then I will tell them that either they can make the choice or I will make the choice for them, you would be surprised how fast kids will make a choice when they know their chance is going to be gone. If they are fighting my choice - meaning I have to tell them I'm sorry that isn't an option, more than ten times then I will tell them, "never mind you obviously don't want a snack because you are not accepting the choices I am giving you so now you can have no snack" My kids will always say, no wait I want the goldfish! Then I say thank you for making a good choice and I will give them the snack. If they throw a fit then I tell them that they chose not to pick one of the choices they were given and so now they lost their chance, I stress to them that it was THEIR chose to not pick an available option and when they choose to get mad about the consequence of their choice then they can go to their room until they can make better choices. Once they calm down I will give them one more chance to make a choice between the goldfish and the yogurt and every time my kids will pick one of those two options. Kids need to test the boundaries and see how much they can get away with it and as a parent it is important to give kids the opportunity to choose for themselves but also know that in the end you are still the parent and not a doormat.
One reader mentioned that they have a hard time coming up with choices their kids like and that is o.k. Life is full of choices that aren't always great and I tell that to my kids when they don't like the choices I am giving them. For example, my kids have a million toys and a playroom that is full of toys and it is their responsibility to clean up their toys and they have learned that when mom says it is time to clean up then that means it is time to clean up because they have a choice and they have chosen the bad part of that choice more than once and suffered the consequences. My kids know that the choice for cleaning is always at my house you can either clean up your mess or I can and when mommy cleans up she puts ALL of the toys she picks up and puts them in the garage and you can earn them back. There have been several occasions that my kids chose not to clean up and I walked into the playroom with a big black garbage bag and started putting toys into that, and I always reinforce that I am sorry that they chose for mommy to clean up the toys. They will always run into the room that I am cleaning and quickly clean up before I can grab their favorite toys and put them in the garage. They don't like that they have to clean up, but they really don't like losing their toys and now I just have to tell them that it is time to clean up and they will clean up.
Now with that being said there is such a thing as two inappropriate choices. I had a friend tell me once that she was tired of fighting with her kids over eating breakfast and that she was giving them choices and it just wasn't working. I asked her what the choices were that she was giving her kids and she told me that the choice was that they could either eat every bite or they could go to bed. Hmm I wonder why she was still having problems with her kids eating - the choices she was giving them were very controlling, and inappropriate. A better choice would have been you can eat now or I can put it away and you can eat it later, or my choice is always you can either eat it all and have a snack later or not eat it all and not have a snack later the choice is yours. Make your choices fit the circumstances - her issue was eating so the choices need to deal with only eating - going to bed has nothing to do with eating. Is this making sense?
One final thought for today, make sure you make a HUGE deal about the good choices your kids are making. When you give them two choices and they make a choice make a big deal about it, i.e. "what a great choice!" or, "thank you for making such a great choice." When you see your kids playing great together tell them that you really like how they are choosing to play nice together. When you make a big deal about it they want to continue making those choices!
Does this help? Leave a comment and let me know about a time when you were stumped with giving your kids a choice!