Giving Kids Choices – Providing Choices to Our Kids During Summer Break

By Chris Wagner|8 - 9 mins| April 15, 2020

For most kids, the Coronavirus pandemic will prove to be one of the lamest Summer breaks in history!  And, sadly enough, one of the most disruptive events in their young lives. Disruptive for us parents, too. Many of us are stressed, home with the kids ALL day long, and making decisions our own parents never had to make under these kinds of circumstances. Our instinct is to take command and create order out of this Coronavirus chaos. Which school assignment is next, what’s for breakfast, is everyone dressed, who’s done their chores? While it is essential for our kids to feel safe, it’s also important for us to remember that we can’t control everything. In fact, if we aren’t providing our kids choices, we may actually be making the situation worse. Below are some of the benefits, tips, and examples of why it’s important to provide our kids choices, especially during this stressful time. 

Providing choices for our kids helps them develop

One of our basic human drives, and a vital element to a human being’s development, is to feel powerful and in control. While our kids need our guidance and help, they also need our encouragement and the freedom to develop their own capacity to make decisions.  When we provide kids with choices and support their decisions, we help them develop the skills to think on their own, resist peer pressure, and be resilient when faced with a challenge.

Benefits of providing our kids choices

Besides feeling in control, being able to resist peer pressure, and nurturing their resiliency to face challenges, there are several other benefits to providing choices to our kids:

  • Builds trust and mutual respect between our kids and us.
  • Establishes a grounded and loving method to defuse arguments, calm temper tantrums, and understand conflict.
  • Helps our kids develop the self-confidence to be creative when problem-solving.
  • Teaches our kids about the consequences of their actions and how to motivate themselves to find solutions.
  • Helps us keep our routines and not waste time on needless power struggles.
  • Teaches our kids how to engage with their peers and defuse their own power struggles with others.

Don’t worry parents, you are still in charge!

When we provide choices for our kids, we are not abdicating our responsibilities as parents. Far from it! We are purposefully building on our kid’s natural need to feel in control and powerful, two qualities they will need to be successful adults. We control the options provided, not our kids. Here are a few points to remember:

  • Only offer choices that are acceptable to you.
  • Let’s not overwhelm them. For younger kids, offer either-or choices. For example, “Would you like either apple or banana slices?”
  • As kids get older, our choices can become more complicated. For example, “You can quit piano if you want, but which other instrument do you want to try? You can’t quit unless you pick another instrument.”

We are not giving up control, we are merely responding to our kid’s needs in a controlled manner. Somewhere I read, “We actually have the power when our kids feel empowered.”

What would you like to wear today?

While our daughter understands the concept of “matching clothes,” meaning the color of her leggings, skirt, and shirt matching, she still loves to choose clothes that clash. If this bothers some of you, my advice to parents is to just embrace it. Who cares? What I’ve discovered is her choices usually reflect either how she’s feeling or some new trend she’s exploring for herself. And honestly, as a parent, I live for insights like these. Our daughter’s current method of choice now involves us providing 3 shirts, 3 skirts, 3 sets of leggings, 3 pairs of socks, 3 shoes, and 3 hairbands for her to choose from. She absolutely loves to see what choices we give her to pick from.

If this seems like a lot to you, just know, there are times when I throw up my hands and respond with, “I don’t have time, just choose.” And that’s ok, we all lose our patience from time to time. But I’ll share a little secret with you.  Because we provide her the choices she chooses from, we seldom argue over what she’s going to wear on most any given day. If it’s cold outside, I’m not selecting shorts or short sleeve shirts as options. And if we are going out to a fancy restaurant, all of the choices we provide fit the occasion. Again, parents, you are in charge!

Providing our kids choices – best practices, learned and earned

From our own reading and experience, here are a few best practices to help get you started:

  • Be consistent. If we consistently provide our child the choice of choosing their breakfast on Saturday mornings, it can be quite confusing if one particular Saturday we do not allow them the option without a reasonable explanation.
  • Ask for help. Our kids love to help. To help motivate our kids, while also providing a choice, try any combination of this type of request: Can you please help me clean the kitchen? I’ll finish the dishes if you sweep the floor.
  • Do it together. Similar to asking for help, when our daughter needs to straighten up her room, we will often let her choose which part of the job she wants to do, and we will help with the other.

6 tips to help you provide choices to your kids at home during the pandemic

The experts explain that kids feel more in control, safe, and confident when provided choices because the practices mesh with how their minds are developing. The biggest challenge right now is that our Summer Break has added all this extra pressure, anxiety, and uncertainty. This makes providing our kids choices right now even more critical. The options we offer our kids during this challenging time could very well be the only opportunities they have to feel in control. Here are a few tips:

Tip 1 Activity Choices. 

Create a daily schedule for your kids to follow and provide them several options to choose from in how they spend their time. For example, if you designate an hour of reading time, either let them choose the reading material or provide them 3 or 4 parent-approved choices for them to choose from.

Tip 2 Eating Choices.

While this doesn’t have to be for every meal, let your kids decide what they want to eat. Again, you can keep this choice open-ended, or you can decide for yourself what their options are.

Tip 3 Chore Choices.

Few kids like chores, and for some of us at home during the Coronavirus, this may be the first time we are asking kids to do chores. So why not provide them with several options and let them choose which chores they want to do.

Tip 4 Time Choices.

Some kids love a tasty snack, or gaming time with friends, or open screen time. Whichever reward is appropriate for your child, tie it to a choice they get to make. For example, give your kids 5 different chore options to choose from. At the start of the day, let them know, they can have open screen time once 3 of the 5 chores are finished.

Tip 5 Clothes Choices.

Why are we picking out our kid’s clothes during the Summer Break, let them choose!

Tip 6 Open Time Choices.

If you can keep your kids engaged hour by hour, activity by activity, all day long, YOU should be writing a parenting blog! Seriously, build in a slot or two every day or a few times a week, whatever you are comfortable with, where the kids get to choose what they want to do for the next 30 minutes.

Your secret power, but you have to use it.

Once I began to consciously provide my daughter with choices, I soon realized that it takes less time and energy to just tell her what to do. When I find myself explaining to her that I don’t want to lay out three pairs of leggings, or this Saturday, you will eat what I tell you to eat for breakfast, it’s either because I’m tired, stressed out, or not present. I also soon realized that providing choices is a secret power that reduces conflict and helps my kid feel in control of her life. I’ve also learned a lot about myself through the experience. I can also feel the power of this practice when I realize I’m in the grip of a power struggle, offer her options, then watch as she processes what I’m proposing, and, more often than not, makes her choice and moves on.


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About The Author:

Chris Wagner

Chris Wagner is a dad, artist, Buddhist, blogger, and content writer. Originally from Texas, he previously worked in the education, youth development, and nonprofit/NGO sectors. For the past 3 years, Chris, along with his wife and 5-year-old daughter, live in Delhi, India. #stayathomedad

Last Updated: Wed Apr 15 2020

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