Choices are a phenomenal way to empower your children, encourage their independence and avoid power struggles on a daily basis. In my parenting class, Redirecting Children’s Behavior, we frequently talk about giving choices to help children gain a sense of importance within the family while also allowing the parents to move more efficiently throughout their day.
While working with several different families and from my own personal experience I’ve noticed that many parents are seeing positive results from giving their children choices. Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed how some parents, even with the best of intentions, are using choices as a power play to get their children to do what they want.
As I was watching Walt Disney’s Peter Pan one day (because that’s totally a thing adults do), I realized this is exactly what Captain Hook does to Wendy, John, Michael and the Lost Boys. After he captures the children he offers them a “choice.” They can either become one of Hook’s pirates, confirmed with a tattoo, or they have to walk the plank! Not much of a choice, huh? Captain Hook goes on to sing:
“C’mon, join up, and I’ll be frank:
Unless you do, you’ll walk the plank!
The choice is up to you!”
Here are some examples of what I’m calling “Captain Hook Choices”
- Do you want to sit down and eat at the table or do you want a time out?
- Do you want to stand still in line or go home?
- Do you want to get down from there or get a spanking? (eeks!)
- Do you want to finish all of your dinner or go to bed?
Yes, these are all technically choices, but there is clearly one good option, and one crummy option, and your children will see this as well. These aren’t the right kind of choices, because you are really just forcing them to choose what you want them to do, not giving them two equal choices and truly allowing them to pick.
These Captain Hook choices are short-term attempts at controlling your child’s behavior, possibly because you are tired, or are in a rush, or have other realistic issues that arise on a daily basis. I get it, sometimes you just need your child to do what you need them to do. I’m not suggesting that you sit around all day and wait for your child to figure out what he or she wants, but I am suggesting that you start incorporating real choices into your daily routine so your child can truly pick, which will likely prevent some of the power struggles from ever happening, and thus lessening the need for the Captain Hook Choices.
Here are some choices you can incorporate into your daily routine that will help empower your children:
- Have your child (as young as 2 years old) pick out Mommy or Daddy’s shirt for the day (just make sure you are ok with either option)
- Ask the child which plate they want to use for dinner (red or blue, dinosaur or robot, etc.)
- Would you like to crawl like a bear to bath or jump like a kangaroo? The more creative and unexpected the choices are, the more fun you all will have!
- For children around 7-10, if you have certain morning/bedtime routines, let the child pick what order they perform them in, and allow them to mix it up. Maybe they brush their teeth and then get pajamas on or getting their pajamas on before putting their toys away, etc.
A helpful tip: When presenting choices to your child you really have to be OK with either choice so that you don’t try and push one choice over the other, or put up a fight if your child doesn’t like your favorite option. Also be aware that your child might come up with a third option on his or her own. If you are OK with that third option, encourage them by telling them that you hadn’t thought of that and it would be fine with you.
The more opportunities for choice you give your child throughout the day (especially for those children who like to participate frequently in family activities) the more likely you will be dealing with a cooperative child rather than entering into a battle or power struggle that will exhaust everyone and take away from spending fun, quality time with your children.
The choice is up to you, but I choose to avoid the temptation of Captain Hook, as a pirate’s life is not for me.