The Power of Giving Choices


The “dog days” of summer have arrived. The sun is blazing, the mosquitos are biting, and the kids are, well, barking (at least in my house!). Summertime certainly brings its share of joy and laughter, but after 3 months of relaxed schedules, unpredictable routines, and normal “jitters” about the start of a new school year, many children (and parents!) have become downright cranky.

Are you looking for some ways to restore a sense of (parental) control in your home? No need to call the “Supernanny!” In their widely-acclaimed parenting book Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood  coauthors Jim and Charles Fay describe a powerful strategy for avoiding power struggles with children: giving choices within limits. Giving children choices teaches them how to make decisions and develop their problem solving skills, shows them that their point of view is valued, and makes them feel more independent and in control of their lives.

Although children often throw tantrums and/or whine when parents set limits, inwardly children truly yearn for parents to set and enforce them. When this is done in a way that also allows children to feel a sense of agency and control, it’s a win/win situation for both parent and child. However, giving choices within limits is only effective when done within certain guidelines:

  1. Only present your child(ren) with two choices.
  2. Both choices must be ones you approve of.
  3. Do not make one option a punishment.
  4. If your child(ren) does not choose within a reasonable period of time (say 10-20 seconds), be prepared to make the choice yourself.

Here are some examples:


  • Do you want to wear your coat or carry it?
  • Do you want to leave the playground now or in 10 minutes?
  • Do you want to wear your blue pajamas or your red ones?
  • Do you want to brush your teeth with my toothpaste or this bubble gum flavor I just bought?
  • Do you want milk or water with your dinner?

The trick is to build in so many choices for your child(ren) throughout the day that when you have to make a decision for him/her you can say, “I give you choices all the time but this is one of those times when I get to make the choice!

Example: Mom/Dad: Do you want green beans or broccoli?

Kid: Neither!

Mom/Dad: We need a vegetable at dinner because they’re good for our bodies.

Kid: I don’t like vegetables (10 seconds pass!)

Mom/Dad: Okay, let’s have broccoli. (End of



And the nice thing about the “giving choices” is it is a strategy that works equally well with adults. So, after dinner, try this on your partner: “Do you want to do the dishes or put the kids to bed?”


And so a new season begins…


-Posted by Kathy Voglmayr, LCSW-C

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