Choose to avoid conflict

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Choices and children can be an explosive combination fraught with traps so why not just tell your child what to wear, what to eat, and so on, why is it important for children to choose? 

Learning to make choices is an important part of your child's ongoing quest for independence. The quest for independence is a strong innate drive within every child, as a parent this evolving drive can be frustrating and is often a source of conflict.  Like many things which appear simple, giving a child choice is not necessarily as easy as it sounds.

 If we agree that learning to make (good) choices is an important life skill how can you go about it, how can you maximize the positive outcomes and minimize conflict?

An important starting point is to remember that your small child has little experience of the world and therefore little understanding of the consequences of any particular choice.

To make an informed choice an understanding of the consequences is required. You know (for example) why eating a nutritionally balanced diet, getting enough sleep, or taking medicine are important for well being, the child has no such understanding.

So what happens if you give your child open choice?

If, for example, you ask your child what they would like for breakfast you probably do so thinking of all the suitable choices and when the child answers 'ice-cream' unsurprisingly you say 'no'. The result is that child is annoyed and confused, (as you did ask what they would like) and a tearful argument is the most likely outcome.

If instead you give the child a limited choice and ask 'would you like porridge or yogurt and fruit for breakfast?' it's clear to everyone what's on offer.

If the child then answers 'ice-cream' your response is much easier, and far less confusing to the child 'I understand you would like ice-cream however the choices for breakfast today are porridge or yogurt and fruit, so which would you prefer?'.

The same principle applies to any choices. As you are the adult you understand the consequences, so to avoid a negative outcome limit the choice to things which are appropriate. 

Clothing is another common source of stress. Asking the child what they'd like to wear often results in conflict as the young child wants to wear the sparkly party dress to play outside in the sandpit or the new bathers on a winter day. Offering the child choice between appropriate examples offers the child a degree of independence and develops understanding of appropriate choices for particular situations.  

 As the child matures and develops a greater understanding of the world so the parameters of the choice are widened. This way choosing becomes a positive interaction between parent and child and at the same time furthers the child's understanding of the world.