Decisions, decisions: Offering your preschooler choices

Young children develop independence and responsibility when making choices

Mom and daughter choose pumpkins from a large display at a pumpkin patch.

Preschool-aged children love to be involved in making choices. Offering choices is a great way to develop responsibility and a sense of independence in the early years.

The benefits of choices

  • Feeling of control. Preschoolers need to have a feeling of control but you also need to establish boundaries for them.
  • Giving options. Offering two choices is a great way to give preschoolers options. Use the wording “this or that” and avoid giving more than two choices.
  • Self-esteem. Choices build independence, which builds self-esteem. With positive self-esteem, your child can handle failure more easily. As children grow older, those with a solid self-worth, can make a poor decision, evaluate it calmly, rethink the situation and make a different choice.
  • Buy-in to the action. When the choice is theirs, they are more willing to follow through and do what they chose.
  • Minimizing conflict. When children get to participate with a choice they are less likely to rebel in the result of the choice.

No-choice situations

There can be times when a preschooler has no choice because of safety or experience. Here are some situations when your child won’t necessarily have a choice:

  • Health and safety. “You cannot play with the knife or you could cut yourself.”
  • Coming or going. “You need to sit in your car seat.”
  • Time. “It’s time to get dressed because we need to leave soon.”

Natural consequences

Giving choices does not automatically mean your child will cooperate. It is important to choose correct wording when offering choices to preschoolers. As much as possible, avoid “either, or” statements and instead include natural consequences and no threats.

  • Offer two clear choices. If your child suggests something other than what you have offered, acknowledge the suggestion and then say that the two choices you gave are the choices that are offered at this time.
  • Guide your preschooler toward the outcome you want. Be sure you are positive and that the options you have offered are OK with you.
  • You may need to make the choice. If your child decides not to choose an option you have offered, you will need to choose for them. Be sure your child is aware of this consequence, that you will choose if they do not.
  • Follow through with your consequence. Your child will learn when you offer them a choice and they do not choose, the ability to choose goes away.

When you give your child a choice, the two of you become partners in the decision making process. So, do you want to start offering choices today or tomorrow? You choose.

Posted In Children's, Parenting

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