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Limited Choices


Many parents wonder how we can get children to “listen” and do what we expect them to do. Children need boundaries and expectations, but they also thrive to have independence and responsibility. Therefore, it is a fine balance between KIND and FIRM, or freedom within limits, when it comes to interactions with children. Pursuit of Balance aligns with this as it teaches skills to value, respect and know oneself, as well others. One example to support balance this is limited choices.


How many times have you found yourself telling a child it’s time to finish dinner, take a bath, clean up toys, or leave somewhere? Maybe you’ve tried many things, giving warnings, five more minutes, or even eventually having to do it for them. Although this may work in the moment if you get to what you need next, it does not help in the long term.


A child is much more likely to respond to something when it’s a choice that they made themselves vs a demand that someone is telling them to do. We can’t give children the complete freedom in their choice or they may be choosing ice cream for dinner or a 10pm bedtime. Instead, you as the adult come up with two options for the child to choose from. Make sure that both of your choices are focusing on the SOLUTION, and then empower the child to make their own choices from your options. It also can feel empowering to the child when you say, “the choice is yours” or “you get to decide” after sharing the choices.


Sometimes children don’t have a choice whether they can do it or not. What we can do is give them a choice of HOW they do it. It’s not a choice, maybe, to leave the park or a friend's house, but to help the transition try making them responsible for how you leave. “Would you like to hop or march to the car?” or “Would you like to give hugs or high fives to say goodbye?”


Another limited choice example… “We have to have a vegetable with every dinner - would you like broccoli or zucchini?” The child may respond with “ice cream” or even “applesauce.” This is when it is your responsibility to stay kind, but firm. “That isn’t one of the choices. Your choices are broccoli or zucchini. You decide.” This may go back and forth for a while, but in my experience it then leads to the child making the decision on one of your options.


IF it does not lead to a respected choice, then you can create a new limited choice - “You can choose which vegetable we have, or I can choose it” and then going with that and if they stay persistent, “ok I respect your choice of having me choose our vegetable, tonight I’m going to choose zucchini for us.”


Again, this is just one of many ways this can be used. Almost any situation can be set up with limited choices. The more you implement this, the more natural it feels, the more the child gets used to it, and I promise you will see the benefits!


Remember - Stay consistent. Stay kind and firm at the same time. Stick to what you say. A child notices patterns when parents say something and eventually give in, so make sure to set those strong expectations that you mean what you say. Take a step back to focus on the POB Practice: Present Moment Focused Awareness and even Focused Breathing if you need to recenter yourself to stay strong :)



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