The importance of choices

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We are a few days into our first beach trip with Mon Cœur (MC). Her routine is slightly different – meals, naps, and bedtime are all a little later than usual. So we’ve had some meltdowns, because she’s tired or hungry, however, we’ve been able to avoid many other meltdowns by simply giving Mon Cœur (MC) a choice between things.  

Yes, I am still in charge.  No, she isn’t running the show. 

  • Do you want to go up for lunch in five or ten minutes?
  • Do you want a peanut butter sandwich or pizza?
  • Want to build a sandcastle or walk and look for seashells?
  • We need to get dressed – do you want shorts and a tee or a dress?
  • Do you want to brush your teeth first or try to potty first?
The lifeguard puts the red flag up, just as we arrive at the beach for the day. I give MC the information that we can’t go in the water right now, and give her a choice between searching for shells or building a sandcastle.

These may seem like silly questions. They add a minute or two to what I may be trying to accomplish, however in the end, she is more apt to cooperate, since she is buying in with her choice.

I’ve talked before about choices, and with my recent experience with MC- here at the beach as well as being with her at home, all the time– I thought it might be worth diving into again. 

Please note, I’m no parenting expert, I simply enjoy (seriously!) the opportunity to read, learn, and grow as a parent and human, and this is one trick I’ve found works for me. A lot.

This is a “tool” that I learned from reading Joanna Faber and Julie King’s How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen. Faber and King’s book has been such a game changer for me, and I’ve mentioned them in previous posts. (See the bottom of this post for a list.)

They offer real advice that allows children to be empowered in their learning of how the world works and navigating it, while the parent is still in charge.  It talks about acknowledging feelings while still setting firm boundaries, giving kids choices, providing information to build understanding of the world around us, encouraging cooperation and resolving conflicts.

A fellow blogger, Lizzie at The Workspace for Children often touches on similar topics and tools I’ve read in the book, providing me with additional examples of how to make them work. I enjoy following her and appreciate her words of encouragement to all parents, as well as reading about her wins and challenges as a parent.

Saying “No” to Yes-No questions

I have learned from experience that when I ask a Yes-No question and I want a “Yes,” the answer from MC is inevitably a “No.”  Therefore, I have pretty much eliminated Yes-No questions from my conversations with MC.  

Just like when we wanted her to ride the horse at an uncle’s house, I didn’t ask her, “Do you want to ride the horse?”  I asked her, “Do you want to ride the horse with Daddy or Mommy?”  I’ll tell you now, Daddy wasn’t ready for the choice or the answer, and you can read more about that experience here.

Instead of MC saying no and then me fighting her to do what I want, I have learned to ask better questions.  She is ultimately saying “yes” to my question, but with a personal choice among the options I have given her.  I remember all the times I goofed up before:

Do you want to take a bath? –No.

Do you want milk? – No.

Do you want fruit? –No.

Will you help me clean up these toys? –No.

Are you ready for breakfast? – No.

Options that are a win-win

So I don’t ask “Do you want to take a bath?” anymore.  I provide information, followed by a choice: “Tonight we need to wash your hair.  Do you want to take a bath or a shower?”  It’s a win-win for me and she gets a choice in the matter.  I give her the information “We need to wash your hair” because she is still sometimes finicky about getting her hair washed, and when she needs it washed, she prefers a shower.

At dinner she chooses between milk and water, a fruit cup or applesauce. It’s always milk and almost always a fruit cup that she requests, but it’s her choice.

I don’t ask her anymore if she’s ready for bed, I tell her, “It’s time for bed. Will you help me pick out two books to read?” Her whole bedtime routine is actually full of simple decisions – potty or teeth-brushing first; choosing which to put on first – the pants or shirt of the pjs; the books to read.

Instead of, “Will you help me clean up these toys?”  I ask, “Do you want to clean up your blocks or your dolls first?” She’s actually really good at putting things back when we’re done playing, and we have a very simple song (Il faut ranger, 1, 2, 3, 4 – We must clean up, 1, 2, 3, 4) that I will begin to sing and she continues to sing until everything is cleaned up. I caught her teaching that song to a friend that was visiting, and was just amazed at the power of a simple clean-up song.

At breakfast time, I tell her, “It’s time for breakfast! Would you prefer waffles or eggs today?” Even if she tells me “I want oatmeal,” instead of choosing between the two proposed breakfasts, she’s still planning on sitting down to eat her morning meal. I’m not proposing that we eat, offering her the opportunity to say, “No,” I’m proposing what we eat. If she requests a different breakfast, that works for me, too. I’m choosing my battles, and totally okay with her asking for something other than what I had offered. The objective, after all, is to feed her breakfast.

Other opportunities to be in charge

MC loves to pick out her clothes, but she has so many to choose from, she would take all day to decide. Or, she would find a nice long sleeve dress for an 80 degree day. So for right now, I pick out two outfits and she decides between those. Sometimes she feels super opinionated (read: bossy) and tells me what she wants (most often, “Baby shark dress!”) and that’s fine, too. I’ll grab it for her.

Sometimes she does want to wear her Snoopy sweatshirt in 90 degree weather, and I have to provide her with information, like “It is going to be super hot today, and Snoopy sweatshirts are for cold days. Why don’t we pick a tee-shirt instead?”

I have been trying to work more on independent play, so I’ll give her options among activities she can do on her own – coloring, play-doh, water pen mats, etc. I also keep those activity spots close to where I’ll be working: if I’m in the kitchen, I will provide opportunities for activities she can do at the kitchen table, if I’m in the living room, I’ll get her started in her little nook area.

Sometimes she gets more screen time than I would like, so when she proposes tv, I’ll quickly say, “How about a game? Do you want to play Sneaky Snacky Squirrel or Memory with Madeline cards?” When we do give her time on the tablet, she picks how long- 10 or 15 minutes.

Most recently, I’ve been asking, “Do you want to call (whoever) before or after nap?” or “We need to call (person). Do you want to see them or just hear them?” We’ve been trying to keep in touch with family and sometimes she suffers from FaceTime burnout because we get calls back to back which are typically long in duration. Letting her decide when and how we call helps her feel empowered, while I am still able to make sure we contact family.

Avoiding meltdowns

For the longest time at bedtime, I would rush to get her to bed, and I’d put her toothpaste on her toothbrush.  She would meltdown, “I want Mooma’s paste!”  

So I would try to remember before preparing her toothbrush and I would ask, “Do you want Mooma’s paste or your toothpaste?”  I was floored – 99% of the time, she would say, “My paste.”  I just had to give her a choice, which added five more seconds to the bedtime routine, and also eliminated the whining and meltdowns. I don’t give her this choice every night – I have to read her moods…If we are close to a meltdown, or she asked for Mooma’s paste that morning or previous evening, I will provide her the option.

A quick note: I don’t always offer all of these choices to MC – it’s really about reading her and knowing when I need her to cooperate and that she might not be in her best place (read: tired or on the verge of a meltdown), when I make sure to provide these options. Other choices, like milk or water and fruit or applesauce at dinner are options that I almost always give her.

I have found how powerful providing choices has been, both for eliciting cooperation from MC as well as for her, learning to make decisions. She certainly has an opinion, and enjoys sharing it, especially when asked.

Previous posts that touch on the “tools” from How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen:

Did something resonate with you in this post? Do you have a parenting win involving choices? I’d love to hear in the comments section!

This post contains affiliate links. For more information about affiliate links, please see my “meet Maman” about page.

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