Small Decisions, Big Results
Photo: Picture Partners/Age Fotostock
“Which sippy cup do you want?” “Which swing would you like to use?” “Should we cut your sandwich into rectangles or triangles?” These are small decisions, but giving your child a chance to choose will go a long way toward promoting his development and fostering harmony in your home.
After your child turns one, you’ll notice that he increasingly makes his wishes known. In fact, communicating his desires is critical to developing autonomy and a sense of personal power, which in turn lay the foundation for healthy self-esteem. Without the opportunity to make choices, a toddler may dig in his heels, which may lead to power struggles with you and tantrums.
One way to foster independence and personal power, while maintaining limits, is to offer your toddler specific choices whenever possible. Begin as soon as your child can indicate her selection to you, either by pointing, signing, or speaking. Most children are ready to participate meaningfully in choice-making by 10 or 11 months.
There are certain times when providing choices can be especially helpful — to you. It can ease the transition from one activity to the next, for instance. (“Do you want to carry your hat or your snack to the car?”). Choices can also help provide structure in an overwhelming environment like a large playground.
Finally, think back to your past power struggles over naptime, diaper changing, or getting in the car seat. With a little forethought, you might avoid conflict next time by offering your child a choice.
3 quick tips:
- Cap It at Two. It’s difficult for toddlers to hold more than two choices in mind at the same time. By limiting your child to just two, both of which are acceptable to you, you can make it easier for him to choose.
- Offer a Time Limit. Use choices to help smooth transitions between activities, but give him a time limit to make his choices. “Decide if you want the blue or purple bowl while I get your cereal.”
- Make It Final. Help your child learn to consider his options before making a choice and then live with the decision he made. If he is disappointed by his choice, remind him that next time he can choose the other option.
Reyna Lindert, Ph.D., is a neonatal nurse at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and holds a Ph.D. in developmental psychology. She has led family-focused play classes and workshops and has co-authored parenting and children’s books.
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