Being a kid is tough. There are so many things you aren’t allowed to do, so many things you don’t understand, and so many choices that adults make for you.
Transitioning from my job as a teacher to being a full-time mom in the past couple of years has taught me so much. I realize that I probably judged some of my students’ parents and families without really having a clue when I wasn’t a parent, and I realize that I have some beliefs that are firmly grounded deeply in me.
Giving kids choices is one of those non-negotiable beliefs of mine, and here’s why.
I can be a pretty strict adult when I need to be. That being said, whether teaching or “momming”, I love to sit back and watch children learn while monitoring from a far. I don’t believe that I am a “helicopter” parent, but I am not the opposite either. I think it’s important for kids to gain confidence and autonomy through safe exploration and limited, practical choices, and we can make that possible as adults.
There is a fine line between letting kids have whatever they want, and giving them choices in various situations throughout the day. As a mom, I believe I have the responsibility to give my toddler safe and appropriate options, while letting him have a choice in the matter, so that he feels like he has some control and that his opinions are important.
For example, this comes up a lot in what we feed our kids. I provide my son with healthy, (mostly) organic, food choices throughout the day. Providing plates with a few options helps him feel like he has control, gives him fine motor skill exploration, and opens up his palate to new foods without forcing him to eat.
Here is an example of lunch at our house. I know James loves peanut butter on wheat bread and Annie’s mac and cheese. I know he doesn’t love cucumbers, and he’s never tried mandarin oranges. There’s a little of everything, and he has control over what he eats and what he doesn’t. Does it drive me crazy that my son is such a picky eater lately and would rather play than eat? Of course. But you win some, you lose some, and I can only hope he opens up to different tastes as he grows!
Another aspect of our day that I like to give choices in is what we play with. I like to take out special toys or messy art supplies while the baby is sleeping, so my son and I have some quality alone time and he feels like he is getting that one on one attention. I always give him a few choices during these times.
Adding a sibling to your family is a huge life change. If you don’t give your child choices and make them feel important, they will most likely become jealous and upset. This has really helped our transition to two babies.
Sometimes when both babies want my attention, I give my son a choice and that helps calm him down. For example, when I am feeding the baby and he wants to go into the kitchen to play, I first explain to him that it’s not a safe option at the moment and he needs to stay with us. (I never blame anything on the baby, which is important as well).
I might say something like, “Right now you can sit with us and have your snack, or you can play with your toys. What would you rather do?” He suddenly feels in control and likes having the choice, even though I’m not giving him anything outrageous to choose from! This especially works with particularly strong-willed children.
Transitioning through the toddler years and into young childhood can be a confusing time for our babies, and as adults we can help them by giving choices. While toddlers are seeking independence and their own identity, choices can help push aside negative behavior and help them feel important.
Make sure you are consistent while giving choices, do what you say you are going to do, and always give practical, limited choices. With patience and an opportunity to see the consequences that choices lead to, toddlers can take one step forward towards growing up making good choices! Children need to feel like they have control in their own little world; they do not need to have control over you!