Giving children choices rather than routinely telling them what to do engages the child’s higher thinking brain. By offering choices with consequences, your child will get some practice in planning and thinking through his or her choices as well as experiencing the consequences of that choice. By the age of five, most children respond well to choices.

Your job is to offer choices wisely. Choices are choices, not threats; and wise choices are truly choices. “Would you rather mow the lawn this morning or this afternoon?” is a real choice. “You can either mow the lawn or be grounded from the computer” is not a choice. Other examples of real choices are “Do you want to pick up your bedroom or hire me to do it?” and “Do you want to spend your allowance at the mall or do you want to pay someone to do your chores?”

When you are giving your child choices, here are some things to think about:

Be sure to select choices that you can live with. In fact, offer two choices that you like.

Choices are not appropriate when your child is in danger of any kind.

The delivery of the choices is important. Offer the choices calmly, and perhaps start your delivery with “Would you rather _______ or ______?” or “Would it be better for you to ________ or _______?” or even “Feel free to _________ or _________.”

Choices offered that are real choices rather than threats are presented calmly with the opportunity for the child to have some control over the situation. Offering choices provides a learning opportunity for your child.

More to consider: Repeat, repeat, repeat . . .

Children will sometimes fight the choices you give them. When they do, don’t take the bait. Don’t waste your mental energy by thinking for them or responding to the typical “That’s not fair!” Rather, simply hold firm to the choices offered and repeat them calmly—over and over, if necessary.

Parent: “You decided to mow the lawn this afternoon.”
Child: “But Mark called to go play ball.”
P: “That may be, and you can go as soon as you mow the lawn.”
C: “I already told him I’d meet him.”
P: “And you can as soon as you mow the lawn.”
C: “I’ll do it when I get back.”
P: “Feel free to go as soon as you mow the lawn.”