Baby girl choosing fruit

Making Choices

Why is it important to help your child to be successful in making choices?

Making choices is an important part of our everyday lives. Our self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-control are all wrapped up in the choices we’ve made and make.

Helping your child to be successful in making choices, and being okay with the choices they’ve made, is an important life skill. Developing their ability to make choices using their brain (what they should do) and their feelings (what they would like to do) is the challenge. It takes a lot of self control to balance the ‘brain’ and the ‘feelings’, and the more opportunities your child has to practice this skill the more successful they will be.

In the early years your child is just developing the ability to choose between two or three things.
It’s important to set them up for success. At about ten months of age you can ask your child which toy they would like and give them a choice of two. Use language to express what’s going on. “You’ve chosen the dog. You didn’t want the teddy you wanted the dog.”

At about twelve months you can ask your child what snack they want, again be descriptive. “Do you want the banana or the peach? You’ve chosen the peach. You didn’t want the banana you wanted the peach.” This is modelling the language they’ll use.

At about eighteen months you can ask your child to make choices around the games you’re playing together. “Shall we make a house with the blocks or a train?” You can increase the choices to three things ‘a house, a train, or a kennel for the dog?’ These are all simple examples of setting your child up for success, modelling language, and giving your child the opportunity to make a choice.

Sometimes your child will want to make a a tricky choice. They may want to wear a raincoat and boots when the weather is hot and sunny. You have to make the decision to go with their choice or offer an alternative, and be aware your alternative may not be received positively by your independent thinking child!

Choosing your battles is a good example of a choice you can make as a parent. Decide whether it’s important to get into a struggle with your child regarding clothing choices, or to just let it go. There will be another opportunity soon!

If you see your child struggling to make a choice you can reduce the options to help them meet with success rather than frustration. Eating out at a restaurant is a good example. There are sometimes just too many choices on the menu. Limit the choices to three or four items your child will be happy with and then let them choose, order their own food, and experience their choice. They may decide they don’t actually like the food they’ve ordered, and this is a good example of having to live with the consequences. You don’t have to use this as a punishment, you can say, “I see you didn’t like what you’ve ordered, what about you share some of mine and I have some of yours?”

There will be situations when your child cannot have a choice because of safety or circumstances. This is a time when you have to step in and let them know as the parent you have to make the choice for them.

With school aged children you can use storybooks to predict choices and to see the consequences the characters experience because of the choices they’ve made. If Red Riding Hood had listened to her mother’s advice and gone straight to her grandmother’s house would there have been an issue with the wolf? As your child gets older you can ask them to identify if the choice the character made was a ‘brain’ (what they should do) or a ‘feelings’ (what they wanted to do) choice.

These early opportunities to practice making choices are in preparation for the times your child will have to make a choice without someone giving them guidance. If they’re already comfortable and used to thinking about their decisions they are less likely to make mistakes.