Why We Need to Stop Offering Our Kids Choices!
“Do you want PB&J, grilled cheese or an egg sandwich for lunch?”
“Do you want to wear your sandals or sneakers?”
“What do you want to do today? The pool, the park, the library, the science center?”
About a year ago my mom lovingly pointed out to me that I was giving my kids too many choices. She wasn’t criticizing, but she explained how kids get overwhelmed with too many options.
Kids aren’t great at making decisive decisions and they shouldn’t have to at age 2.
She also gently reminded me that I’m the parent!
Offering our kids a lot of choices seems to be a new parenting trend. I definitely don’t remember being given all these options and choices as a child.
So what’s happening with parents today? Why was I giving my child so many options? What was really going on here?
Why We Give Our Kids Choices
After some introspection, I realized I had a hard time making decisions. I also worried that if I made the “wrong” decision my child would have an epic tantrum and I wouldn’t feel like dealing with it. (Read my post on how to deal with the terrible twos here).
Yet by not dealing with it and trying to actively avoid the tantrum by offering choices I was unintentionally allowing my child to become the authority figure in our relationship.
I knew things had to change. As a Christian parent, I believe we are to instruct and guide our children.
To build their patience, kindness and perseverance through discipline and love. Not by allowing them to make every decision about their life.
This doesn’t mean we have to be harsh or never give our kid choices. It is important to listen and to cherish our kids. But there needs to be a balance between grace and discipline.
Culture tells us: Give your kids choices, and you’ll empower them. Allow them to be independent, and they will become world changers.
I think we need to take a step back and ask ourselves “what is this really telling our children?”
Are we allowing them to be the boss? Allowing them to determine their own boundaries and rules?
If yes, then this won’t end well.
Now like many things in life there should be balance. Our daughter, 5, picks out her outfit every morning before school. She enjoys creating her own outfit with accessories and hair bows. This act is building her independence by giving her the “choice” of her outfit.
Choosing an outfit or deciding what toy to play with is appropriate for a preschool aged child.
We get into trouble when we overwhelm the children with options or we let them determine the rules of our household.
We shouldn’t have to make a second dinner for our kids because they don’t prefer the dinner we made. This is where setting appropriate and clear boundaries comes into play (read more about that here).
It won’t always be easy. It won’t always be comfortable. But in the long run, when we set firm boundaries and discipline with love we are creating a better future for our children.
Again I’m not saying we never give our kids a choice. Of course there are times where choices are appropriate.
Though to my surprise I’ve found when I just make lunch and give it to our kids there is so much less complaining! They often don’t comment and just eat because they realize this is the only option.
Also note this is geared toward young children. Things may change as your kids get older. When they are in high school and beyond you want them to be more independent. You want them to develop autonomy.
But for younger kids, you want to take a step back and analyze. Are you giving too many choices? Too much autonomy for a 3 or 5 year old?
Choices aren’t inherently wrong, but we need to be careful we aren’t giving too much autonomy to our young children. God called us to shepherd our children. Sometimes this means they don’t get a say in the matter.
Tools We can Use to Gently Shape Our Kid’s Character
As a professor of psychology I am passionate about emotional intelligence and teaching parents to discipline effectively (without losing their tempers or their minds).
The good news? There are tools we can use to help our children grow into successful, respectful adults! We can teach them how to communicate their feelings (even those BIG angry feelings). We can learn how to set limits and boundaries that are easy to enforce. And we can teach our kids to be patient even when it’s hard to wait.
You can do this! Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I also recommend prayerfully considering how to discipline your kids best.
Finally, discipline isn’t my favorite aspect of parenting, but I’ve seen the fruit of it. I’m also resting on the promises of God and believing that when we put in the work He will produce the fruit.
So what about you? Do you struggle with giving your kids too many choices?
How do you handle discipline in your family? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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This is an interesting post. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, especially as I’ve noticed my parenting morphing over the past couple of years. I’ve really found I like the Love and Logic approach, and it advocates giving children LOTS of limited choices over things that don’t matter a lot, but the parents ALWAYS sets the boundaries on the things that absolutely matter and only provide their children choices the parents are okay with their kids making (“Would you like to carry your coat or wear your coat?”). Their rationale is that it respects the child’s ability to think for him/herself and also teaches them that life is about making choices, hopefully good ones, so you let them make choices (and mistakes) when the price tag is small so that when they grow older they know how to think for themselves and have learned from making both good and bad choices when they were younger. The best part about it for me so far has been it reduces how angry I get over things like crumbs on the floor when they choose not to eat over their plates (“Would you like to eat over your plate or sweep up the mess when you are done?”) or leaving their toys a mess (“Feel free to join us for dinner when you’ve tidied up your toys.”). When I realize it shouldn’t be my problem but theirs, it changes my perspective and reduces my anger. As you know, I’m far from having this parenting thing figured out! But these are just some of the things I’ve been thinking about and trying out. While still second-guessing so many other things!
I believe that this topic is the main reason why the relationship I have with my wife is troubled. We have a 3 year old daughter and a 6 year old daughter. The 3 year old is a saint while the 6 year old is quite the challenge.
The 6 year old acts like she runs the house and I believe that is because my wife gives her way too many choices. I keep reminding my wife to be more decisive and to not give her as many choices at that age but she is a special education teacher/coordinator and thinks her training makes all of her decisions correct.
Bedtime is the worst. As you could imagine, our daughter refuses to go to bed and throws tantrums which includes relentless screaming. I am really struggling to exercise the non-abusive discipline that I think would work without getting into a fight with my wife. This discipline issue with my daughter is ruining my wife and my relationship. Any suggestions?
Bedtime struggles are tough on the whole family. We went through a time when our oldest didn’t want to sleep in her room alone. It was vital for my husband and I to be on the same page. Even with that it was tiring. My first thought is counseling may be helpful for you and your wife. It is good to have a non biased third party to help you work through your different opinions on parenting. Have you talked to your pediatrician as well?