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Raising Responsible Kids By Allowing Them To Make Choices

According to Child-Psych Blog, A Little Control Goes a Long Way: Why and How to Use Forced Choice With Your Child,  “Parents set the stage with rules, expectations, and guidance while allowing their children healthy decision-making opportunities. And when their kids mess up, they are typically met with a supportive style rather than a punitive one so their kids can worry more about learning from mistakes than hiding them from their parents.”

Below is an article excerpt from the Kidtelligent system on ‘Building Competency Through Choices’, it was written by Janet Colbrunn, a Kidtelligent contributor.

As children get older, they may fall somewhere between two extremes. Some demand more and more freedom to control their lives long before they are ready, while others are reluctant to make decisions lest they might feel “out-of-control.” A healthy approach to child-rearing is to begin sharing the control from an early age by giving children choices. A two year-old may be given the choice of what color shirt to wear or what kind of cereal to eat. A twelve year-old could choose whether he would like to do his homework before or after dinner, or how to spend his allowance. Control continues to expand until children are ready to leave home and have gained control of most decisions in life.

Giving children a certain amount of freedom and control in their lives helps to instill in them a sense of maturity and responsibility. On the flip side, a child who has gained too much control by throwing temper tantrums or whining to get her way, acts like a brat. Control is power and power struggles lead to anger and the continual desire to get more power. This could lead to an unhappy adult life.

There are many positive reasons for giving children choices. Choices help parents avoid getting into power struggles with children. Children are forced to think about their behavior when they have choices. Choices provide opportunities for kids to make mistakes and learn from consequences of their choices while the stakes are low. When choices are appropriately made, they provide opportunities for children to learn that we trust their thinking abilities.

Guidelines for Giving Choices

Give choices that have two options, either of which would make you happy. If the child will not make a selection in a few seconds, you can decide for him. Never give a choice on an issue that could be dangerous or cause a problem for you or anyone else. Never make a choice sound like a threat. The sentence structure and the tone in which it is delivered is important.

Examples:

  • Feel free to ………………… or………………
  • You can either……………. or………………
  • Which would be best to…………or…………?
  • Would you rather…………….or……………?
  • “Would you rather eat your dinner quietly with us or eat alone when we are

    done?”

  • “Feel free to spend all day doing your Saturday chores, or visit your

    friends when it is done.”

  • “Which would be best to wear your boots today or carry them?”
  • “You can either settle this problem yourselves or put the toy in my “time-out” box.”
  • Some choices are simply a statement of what the parent will do rather than what the children must do: “My car will come to a stop in the next driveway until I hear no more fighting.” All choices should be delivered in a calm voice. Children respond to anger with anger instead of focusing on their choices.

Setting Positive Consequences

Some children are best motivated by rewards and positive consequences for obeying rules and meeting responsibilities. When children have a voice in the discussion on what kinds of behaviors reap what kinds of rewards, they are more apt to buy-in to the program. Rewards may vary for each child. Some choices are stickers, money, food, fun activities, toys, privileges and even additional responsibilities.

The more decisions that children make growing up, the more responsible they will be. When parents share the control with the children at a reasonable rate, the less likely they are to lose it to them before they are mature enough to handle it.

Want to read more content like this? The Kidtelligent system has a wealth of reports specifically geared to your child based on their unique personality and challenges they face. Learn more and take the Kidtelligent Tour.

Janet Colbrunn is a parenting educator and school counselor. She has authored magazine articles and books on parenting skills and building family traditions. Mrs. Colbrunn can be contacted via email.