Offering Children Choices

Offering Children Choices

The beauty of offering a child a choice is that the child exercises control of his or her behavior with the parent’s blessing. The parent must be able to live with either choice the child makes.

The first formula is a straightforward choice between two options. In the second formula, a positive consequence is proposed to the child if she makes one choice, and a negative consequence is proposed if she makes the other choice. In this way the child chooses the positive or negative consequence freely, freeing the parent from the blame for inflicting a punishment on the child.

It is important that the parent start both options with “Would you rather…..” In this way the two options are clearly presented to the child as her choice. It is also important that both options be something the parent can live with, and can actually enforce without the child’s cooperation.

1st Formula: “Would you rather A OR would you rather B ?”

This is the straightforward choice between two options that are both acceptable to the parent. Example: “Would you rather eat your peas, or would you rather not have dessert?”

2nd Formula: “Would you rather A + B, OR would you rather C + D?”

In this formula you attach consequences to each choice you offer. In this formula,  A+B = What I want (A) + what you want (B= (positive consequence, or reward), and C+D = What I don’t want (C) + what you don’t want (D = negative consequence, or punishment).

This formula sets up a choice like this: Would you rather choose A + B, OR would you rather choose C + D? The child is free to choose either option. The first option, A + B, is what the parent wants and what the child wants (positive consequence). The second choice, C + D, is what the parent does not want and what the child does not want (negative consequence). In both cases, the child chooses the consequence.

Example 1:
DAD: Honey, your toys are all over the place, and I’m afraid people will trip on them or step on them and break them. Would you rather put them away and be able to play with them again next time, OR would you rather have me pick them up and put them where they’re out of the way for a couple of days?

Example 2:
MOM: Would you rather do your homework now and then be able to go out and play, OR would you rather do your homework later and stay inside tomorrow?

Example 3:
DAD: Jim, would you rather agree to get home by the 11 o’clock curfew and be able to use the car again next time, OR would you rather just not make any agreement at all about the time you will be home and forfeit the use of the car for a week?

Example 4:
MOM: Would you rather eat your peas and have dessert, OR would you rather not eat your peas and not have dessert?

Notice how each option, each “would you rather,” contains a consequence. The one the parent would prefer contains a positive consequence. The one the parent does not want (but fears the child might choose) has a negative consequence. The parent can live with the negative choice.

A father in one of my classes started using this technique with a very defiant 12-year-old boy. The child responded, “Dad, now you’re making me think. I liked it better when you told me what to do, and I could just say ‘No.’”


3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

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