Teach Them to Make Choices

Start when they are toddlers. Instead of “put on your pants,” try, “would you like to wear your red pants or blue ones?” Instead of “time to go,” say,” should we put on your hat first or your mittens?” Letting them choose helps them feel more in control of their day-thus helping your day go more smoothly. But offering a choice is more than a ploy. It also begins your child on the long journey toward becoming his own person. Who you are and what you accomplish in life is rooted in the decisions you make. It takes practice to get it right. Children whose parents make all decisions for them often flounder in early adulthood when they have to fly solo. They’ve been disciplined, but they haven’t learned self-discipline.

Kids raised in households where they don’t get to make decisions may grow up to be ultra-rigid, doing everything exactly the way Mom and Dad taught them, even if circumstances suggest it’s time for a change. Or, they may grow up to feel lost and ineffectual because they haven’t had the opportunity to develop the problem-solving tools adulthood requires. So, whenever you can, give them the opportunity to decide what to eat, wear, play with. If it’s raining out don’t immediately reach for his rain coat. You can point to the rain through the window and ask him how his body might feel if he wears just his sweater. Ask, “Which coat do you think you should wear today?” Say “good thinking!” when he concludes for himself that his slicker is the best choice.

As with all aspects of parenting, overdoing this rule can be disastrous. Allowing your child to wear only his sweatshirt during a blizzard isn’t teaching him to take responsibility for his choices, it’s being an irresponsible parent. It’s your job to limit his choices to options you find acceptable. At the dinner table you let him know that he can choose carrots or string beans. But marshmallows are not on the menu.