“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.