Dale V Wayman, PhD
Limiting Choices With Children
Offering limited choices instead of making demands can be very effective. Children often respond to choices when they will not respond to demands, especially when you follow the choice with, "You decide."
Choices should be respectful and should focus attention on the needs of the situation. Choices are directly related to responsibility.
Someone once said that we should have a statue of responsibility next to the stature of liberty. Younger children are less capable of wide responsibility, so their choices are more limited. Older children are capable of broader choices, because they can assume responsibility for the consequences of their choice. For instance, younger children might be given the choice of going to bed now or in five minutes. Older children might be given full responsibility for choosing their bedtime, because they also take full responsibility for getting themselves up in the morning and off to school without any hassles.
Choices are also directly related to the respect for, and convenience of, others. Younger children might be given the choice of coming to dinner on time or waiting until the next meal to eat, rather than expecting someone to cook and clean up more than once. Older children might be given the choice of being on time or fixing their own dinner and cleaning up any mess they make.
Whenever a choice is given, either alternative should be acceptable to the adult. My first try at choices was to ask my three year old, "Do you want to get ready for bed?" She didn’t. Obviously, the choice I offered was beyond the need (mine and hers) for her to go to bed, and the choice I offered did not include an alternative I was willing to accept.
I waited five minutes and started again by asking, "Would you like to wear your pink pajamas or your blue pajamas? You decide." She chose her blue pajamas and started putting them on. Adding, "You decide," after a choice is very empowering. It adds emphasis to the fact that the child does have a choice.
What if they don’t want either choice and want to do something else.
If the something else is acceptable to you, fine. If it is not, say, "That isn’t one of the choices." And, then repeat the choices and, "You decide." Children may not have a choice about many things, such as whether or not to do their homework. Homework needs to be done, but children can be offered a choice as to when they would like to do it, such as right after school, just before dinner, or after dinner.
It is important to remember that the feeling behind what you do is as important as what you do.
The key is to be kind and firm at the same time.
This Adlerian parenting principle is taken from the Positive Discipline blog: http://blog.positivediscipline.com/2012/12/limited-choices.html