This or That?

We run into a lot of decisions throughout the course of our lives, from what to wear today to whether or not you should get married. Some decisions are easier than others, but for the most part, we are able to guide our lives reasonably toward the goal we are intending to achieve. Children, on the other hand, struggle with decisions – especially when they experience a lack of control. For example, your family is having guests over and the playroom look like it has been struck by a tornado. You see your child is still playing with their toys. You need them to stop and put the toys away, but you know that the mere mention of cleaning up would result in a tantrum the likes of which the world has never seen. How do you achieve your goal while also empowering and teaching your child to make decisions that will provide positive results?

Giving Children Choices

When we ask a child to put their toys away, their immediate impulse is to object. What usually follows is a back-and-forth between your needs and their wants – both getting unmet. However, when we provide children with specific options, they might instead gain a sense of empowerment because they’re the ones deciding what gets to happen next.

For example, let’s say the toys you want put away are containers of playdough. First, try giving a choice as well as a minute warning. Instead of saying, “Please put your toys away,” you could say, “We need to leave soon. You can choose to play for 5 more minutes and then put the playdough away or you can choose to put the playdough away now.” This explains to the child that the goal of putting playdough away will be achieved, regardless of their selection. But they decide in which manner they wish to accomplish the goal. In this scenario, land in most scenarios, let’s say the child chooses to play for more time. Here, you would reinforce their decision and the common goal wishing to be achieved: “Okay, you have chosen to play for 5 more minutes and then put your playdough away.” 

Your Approach

After 5 minutes have passed, you can readdress the interaction. It’s likely that your kiddo will be unhappy with the idea of putting away their playdough. It is important to reiterate that this was their choice and now we are following through with the results of that choice. Accountability is a valuable and developmental lesson for children. In this scenario, you can remind the child of their previous choice while also offering them a new form of control such as, “Okay, we need to clean up for guests. Earlier, you chose to play for 5 more minutes and then put the playdough away. Well, that 5 minutes of play is over, so it is now time to put up the playdough. Would you like to put the red away first or the blue away first?”

Again, this is not providing the option of not putting playdough away. It is empowering the child to select which playdough to put away first. When a child feels more in control of a situation, they are less likely to cause outbursts because they have more of an understanding. Children are not born with cause-and-effect knowledge, so it is important to aid them in this area of development. 


Lastly, giving children choices instead of demands also provides vital input as to why they are putting their toys away in the first place. Often, children view these kinds of experiences as punishments and can be left feeling like they are in trouble without a reason as to why. Children are highly intuitive and absorb knowledge like sponges, but they also need communication. Our ideals of time and reasoning do not necessarily always register in minds of a child. When you have open discussions and give choices, your kiddo can feel empowered and educated, instead of confused and upset.

Parenting can be challenging and methods like this take time and exploration to become effective. Are you looking to connect with therapists who can help you navigate the difficult journey of being a mom or dad? Give Tx Harmony Counseling a call at (832) 352-1600 or contact us here.

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Krista Bassani, LPC

Krista Bassani, LPC

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