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The Power of Giving Limited Choices

Peanut Butter and Jelly SandwichPreschoolers are at the age where they have the skills, and motivation, to explore the world around them. Your preschooler has developed his or her own preferences and isn’t afraid to let you know about what they are. You can avoid some “meltdowns” and help your child develop independence at the same time with a simple tool. Give your preschooler limited choices.

One of the reasons why preschoolers throw tantrums is because they are frustrated by how little control they have over what happens to them. They don’t get to choose if they want to go to preschool, or what to have for dinner, or when to go to bed.

This is where the power of giving limited choices is useful. The parent still gets to control the situation by only offering two choices. The preschooler gets to practice decision making and can feel like she has some control over (at least one part) of her day. Everybody wins!

In order for this to work, the parent has to offer two equally desirable choices such as:
“Would you like me to read this book, or that book, for your bedtime story tonight?”
“Do you want your sandwich cut into two pieces, or four pieces?”
“Want to wear this red shirt, or that blue shirt, to preschool today?”

Don’t offer a choice that really isn’t a choice at all. Your preschooler will figure out that you really aren’t allowing him to make his own decision. Avoid offering choices like: “Do you want to pick up your toys now or have a time-out?”

Your child doesn’t want to do either of those choices. He is going to resist both of them and may throw a tantrum. Instead, try something different like: “Would you like me to help you pick up your toys, or do you want to pick up your toys yourself?”

Now, your child can feel like he has some control over the situation. He gets to decide if he wants to work with a partner on a task or if he wants to work independently. You still get the same outcome – the toys will be picked up.

Do not allow for negotiation when you offer limited choices. You asked your child which of two books she wanted you to read before bedtime. Her answer was “I want to watch a movie”. Calmly state that a movie is not one of the choices. Offer the same two books again. You are showing that there are limitations in what she is allowed to select, and that she still gets to make a choice.

Image by Jared and Corin on Flickr.