Life is full of choices and decisions. From the moment a child is born, decisions are made on their behalf because they do not have the ability to make their own choices. But as they grow and begin to discover their world it is important to give them opportunities for choice-making—an empowering tool that builds self-confidence and helps them gain a sense of control over their environment.
Engage in Interactions During Playtime
One of the first times a parent will notice that their child is making a choice on their own is during playtime. As you engage with your child, you may offer them different toy choices. Even at the youngest of age, a child will learn to make a choice of which toy to play with. This might seem like a minute skill, but it is important.
Experiences like making a choice between toy A and toy B can help a child recognize, understand, and regulate emotions. Harder choices can help them learn about their behaviors. These early choice points are important for building a solid foundation for further growth and development years down the road.
Choice is a Powerful Motivational Tool
As your child grows older, the choices that present themselves will become an even bigger deal, at least to them. Choices like what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, what to play with first, and so on, can help a child build their choice-making skills. As a parent, it can be hard to let loose of the reigns to let your child make their own choices, but it is a necessary life skill that needs to be learned and nurtured.
Letting a child choose between a red shirt and a blue shirt allows them to feel like they have control over something in their world. They feel like they are in charge of the situation. And providing choices during mealtime can be especially empowering. Offering your child cereal versus oatmeal, for example, can promote their thinking skills (a hot meal or a cold meal), and a sense of responsibility. And trust me, letting your child make a choice about what to eat can come in handy down the road because they are aware of the choice they made and are responsible for eating it, since that is what they chose.
Teaching Children Choice-Making Skills
Start by always offering a choice rather than a demand. Sharing is a perfect example. A child will learn the feelings and emotions behind sharing if you offer them a choice. By asking, “Would you rather share the car or the truck?” instead of demanding, “Share the toys!” gives the child an opportunity to make an empowering choice. The demand doesn’t teach the child that they can choose to share the toy of their choice.
This also helps when you are trying to get a child to do a certain action. For example, saying “We are not going outside to play until the toys inside are cleaned up.” versus “We’ll go outside when the toys inside are cleaned up. I can wait.” are two different ways of saying the same thing! The first option is a demand. A child may feel like they are being controlled, or told what to do, with this tone. The second phrase is an enforceable statement that invites the child to do something. If you say each of these phrases out loud, you will feel the difference. Parents often need reminded of these lessons and different ways to say things to our children. I know I do!
Also, always remember it’s important to model healthy and safe choices for your children—they learn more by watching how you act than by listening to what you say. Children simply mimic behaviors that they view in their world. Young children need a lot of positive modeling and support when it comes to learning how to make good choices. When you show your children the outcomes of decisions you made, you can provide real-life examples of choice-making. For example, when you make a choice to eat an apple versus a piece of chocolate cake, you are teaching your child that it is better for their health to eat an apple for a snack rather than the sugar-filled cake. Same with exercise. If you are a couch potato, your child is likely to mimic this behavior. Instead, it is important to teach your child that exercise is great for our bodies and it is fun to do it as a family.
Tips to consider when offering your child choices:
Limit the number of choices—the fewer the better
Offer small manageable choices that are meaningful to your child
Offer choices based on your child's ability
What are some of the ways you nurture your children’s choice-making skills? Have you noticed them gaining more control over their world—feeling more confident and comfortable putting their ideas into action?
About the Author: Christine Cox is a mom to two children, Capri and Cam. When she is not writing for Proudtree, you can find her over at www.thechoosymommy.com or www.choosykids.com. As a family, the Cox’s love to be outdoors, play and watch sports (Go Steelers, Penguins and Pirates!) and swim. In her free time, (haha, I know, what is free time?) Christine loves to do yoga and relax!