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Can your child take smart decisions?
Rupal Patel
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October 09, 2006

You might be doing your child a favour, by giving him/her the power to make choices, from a young age. This practice could make him/her more independent and groom him/her to be a better decision-maker, someday.  Besides, children also tend to cooperate more willingly when they are given the privilege of making their own decisions because it allows them to feel in control of the situation. Here are some rules to help you understand how to go about it.

Top benefits of giving children choices

Reduces power struggles 

When children are allowed to make their own choices, you are giving them power over the situation. This helps to decrease the tantrums which arise as a result of constantly being told  what to do. For instance, instead of "Go to bed now," when using choices, say' "Would you like to go to bed now or after 10 minutes."  

Improves decision-making skills  

The simple choices, which they make in childhood set the foundation for bigger decisions which they have to make as they grow older. The results of their present choices will teach them to differentiate between a good choice and a bad one. This will increase their confidence in their decision-making abilities.

Makes children more independent 

As a parent, one of the most important things we can do for our children is to allow them to do for themselves what they are capable of doing. This goes a long way in boosting a child's self esteem. They probably will turn around and start giving you choices too. Allow them to do that and follow it through in the same way as you would when you give them choices.

Strengthens the parent-child relationship  

When parents allow children to decide certain things for themselves, they are more likely to co-operate happily when asked to do anything by that parent. It builds mutual respect between the parent and the child. 

Sometimes you must choose 

Decision-making is not easy and children will get overwhelmed if asked to make a choice about everything. Give simple choices only in certain areas to start with and gradually expand it as the child grows older. For example, if your child is throwing a tantrum while leaving the park every evening, introduce the concept of choice there first. You can tell the child, "We are leaving in five minutes. Would you like to go on the swing one more time or the slide?" Don't give too many choices on the same day. For young children these are big decisions and take a lot of effort on their part. As the child gets used to making choices, then start introducing the concept in more than one or two areas, even where there are no tantrums.  

Consider age and level of responsibility

We have to keep in mind our child's age and ability before deciding on the number of options.  For instance, you can ask your two-year old to make a choice between two things -- pizza or pasta for dinner. But you can ask your five-year old to choose between four to five things.

Be flexible  

Giving your child options is a peaceful way to find a middle ground. For example, if you ask your child, "Do you want to wear the blue T-shirt or the green one?" Your child may respond, "I want to wear the black one." If the black one is also acceptable to you, then let the child wear it. If it's not, then find two more choices to give which are acceptable. If the child still acts difficult, end it with another choice. "Would you like to choose from all these or would you like me to choose for you?"

The difference between a rule and a choice

Whatever is a rule for you, state it as it is. Don't make that into a choice.  For example, you have to go to school now: (that's the rule) Would you like to go happily or with a grumpy face?"( You have added the concept of choice here).

Or, "Would you like to brush your teeth first or wear your pajamas first?" (Note: both things have to be done; the choice given is -- which one should be done first).

Encourage your children

There are times when children may constantly refuse to make a choice and keep asking you to decide everything for them. Although this may seem like an ideal situation where the children are obeying you and doing everything that you decide, it is not helping them to grow. At such times, parents need to start introducing the concept of choice gradually, giving minimal choices in the beginning and guiding the child gently towards independence.  

Start giving choices today and watch your children grow into confident individuals with a high self-esteem.

-- The author is a child psychologist and parent counsellor.

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