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Too Many Choices

So much of recent literature reinforces that giving children choices and letting them be active participants in their lives leads to successful, independent adults.  However, there are times when giving too many choices can lead to less satisfaction and paralysis of decision making.  (I admit that I have been paralyzed more than once in the grocery store where shampoo bottles take up an entire aisle – way too many to choose from!)  Suzita Cochran, PhD of the blog playfightrepeat.com wrote a guest blog at simplekids.net about how too much choice affects our children, and what we can do about it.

In her post, Dr. Cochran references Barry Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice,” who suggests that as our choices increase, so do our expectations.  When we have numerous options, even if the end result is perfectly fine, we are less satisfied.  In the United States, our freedom of choice has been magnified to the point where it is assumed that if some choice is good, more choice must be better, which is not the case.   Too many choices can paralyze decision making, and lead to putting off a decision rather than making a less than perfect one.

Dr. Cochran gives five ways that we can productively limit choice in our children’s lives:

  1. Don’t hand over the complete catalog of toys, summer camps, colleges, etc. to your child.  Instead, first have a conversation with your child about his priorities and preferences related to the choice at hand.
  2. Don’t leave the full choice to your child.  Help her by culling the choices down ahead of time.  Instead of giving your child the entire summer camp catalog, offer a choice of three camps that you know your child would enjoy, and have her choose one or two of those options.
  3. Be careful with the language you use with your children.  Beware of phrases that may convey inaccuracies to your child, such as:
    • It’s completely up to you.
    • You can do anything you want.
    • It’s a blank slate.
    • Your options are wide open

Instead, use language which supports satisfaction with the final choice, such as “Wherever you go in the end will be your #1 college.”

  1. When children are young, offer them small, daily choices that you have little stake in, such as “Would you like to wear the red socks or the blue ones?” instead of opening the drawer and saying “Which socks would you like to wear today?”
  2. De-clutter children’s rooms regularly.  Teach your child how to prioritize her favorite and most-used items by having her sort through her room with you.  A room that is stuffed with toys and clothes represents too much choice for a child, not to mention raises stress levels for the both of you!

In Dr. Cochran’s post, she also refers to another author and psychologist, Wendy Mogel, who notes that parents and teachers often give too many options, which can stifle creativity.  By the time a child has narrowed down their final choice, they may have run out of steam before actually reaching the project.  Dr. Mogel writes, “Creativity blossoms when it faces limits.  A sonnet is fourteen lines, a haiku just three.  When water is allowed to sprinkle it loses pressure, but when it is channeled through a hose, the flow is more powerful.”

Would you like more ideas about how to help your child with decision making and creativity?  Check out Kidtelligent!  Kidtelligent can give you additional tools to help teach your children based on their own unique personality types and interests.  Find out more about the Kidtelligent Assessment and other tools at www.kidtelligent.com, and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Kidtelligent.

Sarah is a guest blogger for Kidtelligent. She is a soccer-playing, travel-loving, poetry-writing wife to a “go-getter” husband and mother to two high-spirited, sweet, and enthusiastic boys. All of this “get up and go” makes her one tired, but happy woman!