CHOICE FOR YOUR CHILDREN: Developing agency through options

CHOICE FOR YOUR CHILDREN: Developing agency through options

motherbees parenting help children develop agency and reduce conflict

Are you tired of butting heads with your child when you ask them to complete a simple task? Wonder why your child resists anything you ask them to do?

Usually, resistance or defiance is a person’s attempt at exercising agency over their decisions. But, craving a voice, a say in things that happen to and around them, is a normal human instinct for people of all ages, children included. And one that deserves respect at any stage in life! 

Even when our children disagree with us, we must learn to hold space for their uniqueness, preferences, voice, and choice. We must try to model active listening and compassionately witness them as much as possible. When time permits, allowing them to air their grievances and validating their feelings is the best course of action—this helps them grow in so many ways. 

But, we don’t always have time for a major connection session when we’re making quick moves on the fly. In those cases, we can finesse how we communicate with our children to include choice—but still get where we want to go with as little struggle as possible. 

Rather than barking orders, try offering options. 

Children (and let’s be honest, many adults) find too many choices overwhelming and can get stalled by indecision when it’s time for action. Distilling our goal into a couple of manageable options simplifies and streamlines the approach.

OPTIONS VS ORDERS
When we include children in decision-making, they feel respected and more likely to cooperate. They develop problem-solving skills and confidence and learn how to make healthy decisions. When everyone feels heard and respected, there is less opportunity for friction! 

Offering a limited set of options that achieve the same goal (rather than giving general orders) helps your children understand your underlying motivation, helps them develop a sense of independence through choice, and encourages a participatory mindset. All of this reduces disharmony between parents or caregivers and children. 

ADAPTING AS THEY AGE
For young children, be mindful not to overwhelm them with choices. Keep it simple: a choice between two options is best. If they argue for a third option, simply and calmly tell them that option is not being offered. “I’m not offering that” is less confrontational than things like “no, you can’t.

For older children, depending on their level of maturity, you can start integrating a third option and inviting them to trouble-shoot more challenging decisions together. 

Supporting your child’s ability to develop agency over their choices and a voice is a gift that will pay dividends over the years as they learn to navigate choice and decision-making across all spectrums of their life. 

The key to success with this approach is consistency. Once you set a boundary with options, hold your limit firmly and calmly. Let any consequences follow be natural or logical, avoiding punitive measures. You can remove struggle from the equation by adopting a practical, unruffled approach. When you lead by example in this way, you’ll watch your children flourish! 

For examples of how to offer options instead of orders, and remove the sting from communication, check out our Buzzworthy Scripts on the subject! 

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