Three Simple steps to Guide Your Child to Choose Healthy Behavior Independently

I don’t know how it got started, but my 18 year old was saying, “Yea, I really like it when you start out saying,” “I’ll tell you what,” like it is the deal of the century. “Then you end it with a choice of cleaning my room or cleaning the bathroom.” I had to laugh because I do this kind of thing purposefully, and often with children I am working with (Not suggesting they clean the bathroom). I guess I didn’t realize how automatically, often ,I do it with my own kids.

Now what I am talking about is giving what I call “guided choices.” Here are the 3 simple points I use:

1) Give children “weighted” choices.(Using a very sweet, genuine, non-pressured tone of voice, give a child 2-3 choices. One of the choices having the most benefits for them – this is also your preferred choice for them)

2)Let the child freely choose.

3) Lay out the truth. Proceed with the benefits or lack of, the way things logically will work in real life. (avoid guilt ridden language and use a sincere tone.)

How do “guided choices” work? The child genuinely chooses and you get to lay out reality but it must be done in a very neutral way. No guilt, pressure or fear involved in the presentation of the choices. The result – The child chooses the choice that will make his life most comfortable, other choices bear less desirable results. The best part is although you provide the guidelines, you do not enter into a power conflict with the child by providing the appropriate support for good decision making.

Now is it necessary you do this for every situation that comes along? No,  however the more attention seeking the child is or the more they are use to being in control, the more often you need to do this.  I can not stress this enough, AVOID THE POWER STRUGGLE, WATCH WHAT YOU SAY AND THE TONE OF YOUR VOICE.

The root of the word discipline means “to teach.” In giving young children limited choices and making the healthiest choice, the one with the best outcomes for the child, helps the child learn.

Here is one example; during circle time    at preschool, all children had an item to put on the board when it was their turn. One little girl,  Julie refused.  The teacher then replied with, “OK Julie, you can sit and hold that but before you can do the dance activity with the class you need to put the piece on the board” and “those that are following rules first get to be my leaders.” The teacher then continued on. The class finished the activity and went to dance.  The teacher then said to the class, “The children that are following directions first and have their eyes on me are the ones that will get picked  to be leader.”  All the children quickly followed the direction. Julie ran over and said” I want to be a leader!” The teacher replied with, “I’m glad you want to join us, however Julie, you need to put your piece on the board before you can join the children.” Julie quickly put her piece on the board then said “Can I be it now?” The teacher followed through with,”Oh, I’m sorry but I already told the children those that were following directions first would be picked, there were other children here first Julie, you can try again next time.”

1)  The choice: put the object on the board and play with the kids or sit and keep the object.

2) Julie chose to hold the object. The teacher gave this no attention and continued on.

3) Julie got to join the children after putting the piece on the board, but did not get to be a leader this time.

Sometimes screaming or a tantrum  can follow the first time (or the first few, depending on the child’s temperament and how often previously choosing to be in control appears to the child to be the best choice with the best outcomes)Remember , when a child is use to being in control, this outcome may not seem that great at first.( If a 4 year old is the one in control than the surrounding situation is fairly chaotic, and there is a need for the child to feel he /she must maintain control – these instances are to be found in an upcoming blog. In this instance, the child must turn up the heat to make things work the way they normally experience them.This method still works with a couple added steps)

Why does this work? Julie got to freely choose, she got to be in charge of her choice and bore the consequences without being coerced or shamed. Over time she learns to choose well . She gets positive attention, positive results , gains confidence and views herself positively.

What happens  when children  do not know how to choose positive actions  for themselves and you give unweighted choices?  Another example, I was assisting one of my children’s coaches once. He was excellent with High school kids, however he had a group of junior high kids that had a low motivation level. The group that was there that day was there to socialize, hang out and not much more.  He gave the kids 3 equal choices of what kind of warm ups they wanted to do. The kids answered with moans and groans and basically told him they wished to do nothing. This certainly was not the coaches intention, nor was it good for the kids at this point in time. In all fairness, this coach over saw several teams and did not work with this particular group often. He could have given that choice to the kids he usually worked with because he had already motivated those kids with positive attitudes, rewarding all effort with positiveness and encouraging those that lagged behind. The result of the kids he worked with was a leading team, kids that had started at all levels. This younger group of kids was not to that level yet and needed weighted choices.

Remember learning is a process,  that for most of us occurs over time. Choosing healthy does not happen automatically. We, as teachers, parents, therapists are guides to help children learn to make good choices for themselves. Will they always choose the best thing? No , life is life and we all make mistakes and have weaknesses, however the more experience we have at anything, the better we get at it.

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