Behavior & Environment

How to Use Choices Effectively

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Giving kids choices is one of the most versatile tools in a child care toolbox. Choices give kids a sense of agency, a sense of control and belief that they can influence and impact things happening in their own world, help kids develop problem-solving skills. This is important to a toddler figuring out what outfit to wear for the day or a teenager making a big decision about a relationship with a friend. Here are a few tips on using choices effectively.

1. Make them age/child appropriate.

Every child is different, even at the same age. It’s easy for a child to feel overwhelmed by too many choices or choices that feel too big to make. For younger kids, give them limited, simple choices like “Would you like cheese or yogurt for lunch?”, “Would you like to wear outfit 1, 2, or 3 to school?”, or “Would you like to go to the park before or after homework?” As kids get older, add in more complex options and ask them to come up with their own choices. You can prompt them by asking open-ended questions like “It looks like you have two choices: missing the last game of the season or missing the last weekend at the lake with Sam before he moves. Can you see other options?” or “What are the different ways you can respond to the bully at school?”

2. Help kids walk through the choice-making process.

In order to make good choices, kids have to process the issue/question, consider appropriate choices and make a decision based on their needs and wants. That’s a process that must be learned. Helping them understand the steps and put it into practice throughout the day is the best way to teach the process.

3. Only offer choices you can live with.

This is easy with younger kids but gets much harder with older kids who are developing their own choices. To keep them from making a choice that goes against what you feel is appropriate, make sure you have a framework in place beforehand that reflects your values. One helpful framework is the one outlined in “Positive Discipline.” Every choice must be practical, effective and respectful.

If you don’t use choices already, test them out. You’ll find they help manage challenging behaviors and help kids become confident and competent in their own abilities.