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Parent's Reverse Psychology: The Power of Choice

As moms and dads, we want to know that we’re in control. But our children tend to beg, plead, and whine about the options we make for them. So, give your children options (without really letting them choose). This is a great way to let children have an option without giving up all the parental control. But you don’t have to make it an option between something they want and something you want for them, like candy or an orange. Choose the orange for them, but they get to choose how they’re going to eat it… in slices or with cottage cheese.

Empowering your children with options gives them more independence. It teaches them the relationship between their decisions and outcomes. And with more practice, their decision making skills will grow into a valuable lifelong lesson. Giving children options encourages cooperation, which is what we are trying to get in the first place. Giving children options helps prevent power struggles. The ability to choose is a natural human need. Quench their thirst for control and watch the power struggles fade. The ability to create options is what gives your kids a sense of purpose. They are no longer helpless babies. They are functioning human beings that are fully capable of creating their own options.

Offering your kids options is an excellent strategy to have in your parenting "tool kit." If you make an effort to be genuine with the options you offer, you will communicate respect for your kids at the same time, which will result in greater collaboration and overall peace. 

Here are some strategies to apply when providing options for your kids:

1. Don’t forget to add the words ‘you choose’: “Would you like to play a video game, or color while I cook? You choose.” This will make it next to impossible for the power hungry child to pass up.

2. Give specific options that you are comfortable with. If you don’t feel like cooking lasagna for dinner, don’t offer the option.

3. If kids don’t like the option they made, acknowledge their disappointment and remind them that they can choose another option next time.

4. If your child tends to change his/her mind, confirm the option and your expectation that he/she sticks with it. For example say, "Okay, you chose corn flakes, right? Once I pour the milk on it, I expect you to eat it."

5. If you say, "Do you want juice or milk" and your youngster responds, "I want both," you can reply, "Which one first?"

6. If your youngster is reluctant to suggest some options, you can say, "You can decide or I’ll decide for you, but you might not like what I decide."

7. Limit options to two or three. Giving your child the option between 5 different shirts is going to do more harm than good.

8. Make sure the options are age appropriate. Four-year-olds are great at picking out their own pajamas, but don’t expect them to choose the color of your new car.

9. Make the options respectful to both you and your youngster. If you say, "Either quit throwing the ball in the house or I’ll take it away," you are making a threat and not offering a respectful, fair option. An effective, mutually respectful option would be, "You can either play with the ball outside or with another toy inside. You choose." Here, you can address safety concerns and respect the youngster’s need or desire to play.

10. Offer options that you can live with. For example, you might ask, "Do you want peas or carrots for dinner?" This narrows down the options and gives your youngster some say in the matter.

11. Offer options as often as possible. Much of your youngster's day includes following directions. As moms and dads, we tell our children when to be ready, where to go, and how to behave. At school, their entire day is scheduled around following "orders." So as often as is appropriate, give your youngster options. This might be something as simple as "Do you want to wear the long sleeve shirt or the short sleeve one?"

12. State your bottom line (the minimum standards that must occur or what is non-negotiable). Then you or your husband or wife can offer options within those limits. Your limits will usually relate to safety, health, rules, rights and things like that. Those are issues that the both of you can and need to control.

13. Don’t be overly rigid about forcing kids to pick one of your options. Any option that meets your bottom line is okay, because your goal is to reach a win/win solution.

14. Talk about options in advance. This gives your youngster a chance to think about the options and make an informed decision. For example, you might be planning a special family outing for your kids. If it really makes no difference to you which place you go (e.g., park, beach, museum, etc.), then give them the option to choose. This increases their sense of inclusion in the process and will likely help them participate more enthusiastically when the day comes.

15. Give your youngster time to make a positive decision. Learning how to make the right decision takes time, and sometimes your children just need a little space to come to the decision "on their own."

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