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Choice: A Powerful Management Tool for Young Children

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

A recent post I shared in our Teach Reach Master Crew Facebook group, from the perspective of a frustrated two year old, sparked a lot of interest. As a follow up, I wanted to share some info about how to avoid this frustration and tantruming to create more agency and confidence for our little ones.

Young children want to do as much by themselves as possible. My 2 year old daughter literally screams "BY SELF!!!" a bazillion times a day. You can start giving them choices as infants where you might make the choice for them often but over time, they will understand, start to make their own choices, and absolutely love it! By 18 months old, they definitely need choice as much as possible! Giving choices is an easy way to give them agency, also known as control. There are so many things they do not have control over so giving them control whenever possible goes a long way to make them feel happy and comfortable. There are a lot of tantrums that result from not having control over what happens. Think about it, even for us as adults, not having control is one of the hardest things to manage. Even though our children are still so dependent on us, they want as much independence as possible which leads to more and more independence, responsibility, initiave taking, and confidence as they get older. That means less on you Mama! Do the work now to identify as many times as possible that you can give choice so you and your child will reap the benefits.

There are many times to give choice that feel pretty obvious:

"Do you want yogurt or cereal?"

"Do you want water or milk?"

"Do you want to wear a pink shirt or a red shirt?"

"Do you want to read Llama Llama or Goodnight Moon?"

"Do you want this on or this one?"

Etc. etc. etc.

Remember to always take adventage of those obvious opportunities but....

There are other times that feel a little bit less obvious and are very effective in directing your child to the end result that you want while also giving them some choice in the process. Here are some examples:

The one I use the most in many different contexts (when applicable) is:

Do you want to do it by yourself or do you want me to help you?

*Most of the time I still have to assist a little bit but she made a choice to do it herself and FEELS like, "I DID IT!" when she is done. Thats the golden ticket to a happy young child. Side note: My daughter recently learned how to do the buckle on her carseat and how she does it by herself all the time. She wants to be SO independent that she actually tells me to "be right back"/walk away for a second. So she can do it without me standing there. So sweet.

When you are going to change their diaper:

Do you want me to change you on the changing table or the floor?

Do you want me to change you right now or in 5 minutes?

Do you want Mickey diapers or Daniel Tiger diapers?

*Have books by the changing table that they can make a choice from to look at while being changed.

When you need them to come somewhere with you:

Do you want to walk or do you want me to carry you?

Do you want to hold hands or do you want to walk by yourself?

*There are times the child has to come with you and times they have the option to come with you or not. If the child does not have the option to come with you or not, don't ask, "Do you want to come with me?" Its a trap we often fall into but if the child doesnt not have the option, don't pose the question as if there is an option whether or not to go. Instead give them an option of HOW to go.

When you are going from the car across a parking lot:

Do you want to hold hands or do you want me to carry you?

Do you want to go in the cart or do you want to hold onto the cart?

When getting the car:

Do you want to carry your water bottle to the car or do you want me to carry it?

Do you want to get in you seat by yourself or do you want me to put you in? (When she "does it herself" she stands on the end of the seat and awkwardly flops herself into the seat. Hey, whatever works.)

Meals/Snacks (when applicable):

Do you want to sit in the high chair or the Bumbo?

Do you want Mommy to put your tray on or do you want Grammy to put your tray on?

Do you want to get your snack or do you want to get your snack?

Do you want it in a bowl or on a plate?

Do you want a fork or a spoon?

Do you want it whole or do you want it cut up?

Do you want a sippy cup or cup with a straw?

How many of these do you want?

Take the time to identify alllll the times that you can give choice on a daily basis. Maybe even make yourself a list to committ it to memory. Put it up on your fridge. Whatever you need to do. Then enjoy the benefits of a happier child.

Other suggestions of times to give choice? Put them in the comments!

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