Advice Column, Child, Parenting

Why offering choices is important

By Bonita Nel, teacher at Pecanwood College 

One of the best ways to build up a sense of independence is to make choices. When we make our own choices, we feel some sense of control. With frequent opportunities to make our own decisions we begin to think of ourselves as ‘in power’ of at least parts of our lives.

The same rings true for our youngsters. Making choices is not just an essential life skill for them, but Dr Erin Leyba says it builds respect, strengthens community, invites cooperation, develops problem-solving skills and capitalizes on children’s basic human need to feel in control.

How do we go about creating confident decision makers? It is a question of practice makes perfect. As many skills, you do not achieve success in the first round. By including simple choices throughout the day, your toddler will learn that he can have a say in what he chooses to eat for snack time (would you like an apple or banana?) or what to wear to school (would you like to wear the green or blue sweater today?). 

Here are a few golden rules to consider as you work your way to a stress-free day and empower your child to make choices on the road to becoming a confident decision maker:

  1. Choices must be limited. Offering too many options may create anxiety therefore keep it simple. Certain routine tasks are tricky especially when it comes to brushing teeth. Offer them a choice of toothbrush: would you like to use the green dinosaur or your shaking Spiderman toothbrush? Strawberry flavoured or minty toothpaste today?
  2. Sometimes adults need to tell children that there is no choice. When safety or health is at risk, it is important for the adult to say, “Choosing not to brush your teeth is not an option.”
  3. Choices must be honoured. Do not offer a choice that you cannot honour.
  4. The choices must be authentic. If you offer your two children an option of two stories, inevitably, one will choose the first story and the other child will choose the second story. This is not what you need at the end of the long day. Resolve this by offering each child the choice of story on alternate nights.
  5. Avoid being too indulgent and child-centered. “Anything you want my darling” does not offer a child sufficient boundaries that they require to feel safe which in turn is essential to developing self-assurance.

As parents we are exhausted at the end of the day, it might feel like you have been in a boxing ring with your toddler. Offer them choices that will make them feel empowered and make feel like their opinions and feelings are of significance.

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