WHEN KIDS WON’T COOPERATE GIVE CHOICES
Giving choices may be the single most useful tool parents have for managing life with young children. It really is almost a magic wand, at least until children are about five.
“The doctor says you have to have a shot. Do you want it in the right arm or left arm?”
“Do you want to go to bed now or in five minutes? Five minutes? Ok, do we have an agreement that in five minutes you’ll go to bed no matter what?”
Why does this little trick work so effectively? Because it’s a win-win solution. You’re offering only choices that are okay with you, so you’re happy. She gets to pick one that’s okay with her, so she’s happy. You sidestep the power struggle, because you aren’t making her do something; she is choosing. The child is in charge, within your parameters. No one likes to be forced to do something. Here, because she chooses, she cooperates.
So how do you use this magic wand?
GIVE LIMITED CHOICES
Make them as palatable as possible to the child, but eliminate any options that are unacceptable to you.
FOR A YOUNG CHILD OR ANY CHILD WHO IS EASILY OVERWHELMED AN EITHER/OR CHOICE WORKS BEST
“We have to leave now. Do you want to put on your shoes yourself or do you want me to put them on for you?”
AS CHILDREN GET OLDER, CHOICES CAN GET MORE COMPLICATED
“You can quit soccer if you want, but what sport or physical activity do you think you’d like to try? You need to choose one physical activity.”
CHOICES CAN BE USED TO HELP KIDS LEARN TO MANAGE THEMSELVES
“As soon as your homework is done, I’ll help you carve that pumpkin. Your choice, but I know you want to start on the pumpkin as soon as we can.” He has the choice to procrastinate on his homework, but you’re helping him motivate himself to tackle it now.
CHOICES CAN TEACH CHILDREN CONSEQUENCES
“You know your piano recital is coming up. Extra practice will help you feel more confident, but that’s your choice.” Don’t offer choices you can’t live with, of course. If you aren’t willing to let her make a fool of herself at the recital, you may need to help her structure her practice effectively.
REMEMBER THAT EMPATHY DOUBLES THE EFFECTIVENESS OF GIVING CHOICES
Empathy helps the child feel understood, so he’s less upset, and less resistant. That means he’s more likely to actually be able to make a choice and move on.
When / Then
This statement basically says “when you do [this positive behavior], then you will get [this positive social reward].”
If / Then
Notice how different the tone is when you say: “If you do [this negative behavior], then you will get [this consequence.]”
Yes or No
Be sure when using this strategy that it is something that the child has the ability to say no to. Avoid asking questions like ‘are you ready for bed’ or ‘are you ready for school’ when it is time for those routines. More successful and appropriate questions for those routines would be ‘would you like a story before bed tonight?’ or ‘would you like to bring a book for the ride to school this morning?’
- Would you like a hug?
- Would you like to bring a sweater to school today?
- Do you need some time alone?
Before or After
This option is very useful at supporting transitions that the child may have difficulty with or may be hesitant in completing. This strategy clearly states the non-negotiable task but gives the child some control in how or when it is completed. A few examples of this strategy are, ‘would you like to put your coat on before or after your shoes’ or ‘would you like to brush your teeth before or after your story’.
- Would you like to use the washroom before or after you’re dressed?
- Would you like to read your schoolbook/do homework before or after dinner?
- Would you like to practice your numbers before or after snack?
A or B
This strategy is also quite helpful because it clearly states the end goal however it gives the child the control to determine how they will complete it. For example, you want your child to have a vegetable with their dinner, allow them to choose between peas or carrots.
- Do you want mom or dad to help?
- Would you like to wear your blue or red hat?
- Would you like to pick up the books or the Lego?
Alone or With Help
I find this strategy very useful for tasks children avoid or have difficulty completing. Be prepared to help because quite often they will choose that option. I use this strategy quite often when cleaning up after play time, which also helps to model the behaviour for the child.
- Do you want to put your shoes on or would like my help?
- Would you like to read this book alone or with help?
- Do you want to make you bed alone or with help?
Allow for opportunities of problem solving. Your child may not always make the best choice, but this is okay, and a great learning opportunity. Allow them to complete the choice they made and then ask them questions about what happened, did they make the best choice for the situation? Why or why not and ask them for solutions to solve their problem.