There is an art to giving children and adolescents choices. As parents, we want to give our children the choice of how they do a task or chore, but not in the completion of the task or chore.
The completion of the task is going to happen. This is never up for negotiation. What the parent and child can negotiate is how and possibly when the completion of the task happens. By giving children and adolescents ownership in the completion of tasks, they are able to gain a sense of responsibility, ownership, and independence. An example is that the trash needs to be taken out. The parent says to the child, “The trash needs to be taken out. Do you want to take it out now or when your show is over? Which do you choose?” Of course, the child will choose when the show is over. When the show is over the parent can say, “Remember you chose to take the trash out when the show was over. I appreciate you taking responsibility for the choice you made. Thanks.” Another example is that toys need to be picked up. The parent says, “The toys need to be picked up. You can choose to pick them up now, or you can choose to pick them up in five minutes. Which do you choose?” Or you can say, you can choose to pick up the blocks first and then the Legos, which do you choose. The pattern is still the same.
The pattern for the choices can be used for anything. The pattern is “You can choose___________(this, whatever this is) or you can choose ________________ (that, whatever that is), which do you choose?” Giving children and adolescents the choice allows them to begin understanding that their choices have consequences. Plus, it allows them to begin accepting responsibility for the choices that they make.
What happens when the child or adolescent makes a choice the parent does not like? For the parent – breathe! Allowing children and adolescents to make choices, in the safety of our homes, is teaching them how they will make these choices in adulthood. An example might be that the child chooses to not study for a test and then complains about the bad grade. The parent’s response should be limited to, “sounds like you are unhappy with the choice you made (of not studying for the test), maybe next time you will make a different choice.” The art is making that one statement, nothing else. Do not lecture. By making this one statement, it is allowing children and adolescents to experience the anxiety of their choices.
Anxiety is what produces change in people. As parents, we have to allow our children to experience the anxiety of their choices, so they gain the understanding that they need to learn how to make the right or better choices. What happens is that parents take all the anxiety away from children; like the above example when the child or adolescent is not studying for a test and we harp on them to study. This is our own anxiety that causes us to harp on them. Instead, we have to give the anxiety back to the children to help them understand their choices have consequences. When they experience the anxiety of possibly not doing well on a test, they will be more likely to study. But, when the parent takes all that anxiety from them, they will not study. Giving choices helps the relationship between the parent and child instead of the parent focusing only on the behaviors. The child is happier and the parent is happier.