REAL Choices

Giving choices sounds really easy, right? Well, sometimes giving REAL choices is not as easy as it sounds. Can you remember a time you were given a choice that wasn’t really a choice? Like your boss “asking” you to work on Thanksgiving or take paid time off? That’s not a REAL choice and could be considered a threat “in disguise.” You either spend time working rather than with your family on Thanksgiving or take an unpaid day off which results in losing paid time you could have spent doing something you enjoy (or getting the laundry caught up!) Let’s look at a choice checklist to be sure the choices we provide are REAL choices that provide learning opportunities, build self-esteem and decrease power struggles.

R: Realistic (choices must be real, available choices)

E: Emotionally safe (choices that are not shaming or “threats in disguise”)

A: Age appropriate (little kid = little choices, big kid = bigger choices)

L: Livable (choices must be livable and safe for the child and parent)

REAL Choice Checklist: 

1. Always be sure to select choices that you like and are acceptable to you. Never provide one you like and one you don’t, because the child will usually select the one you don’t like.

2. Never give a choice unless you are willing to allow the child to experience the consequences of that choice. Most children from hard places have experienced enough neglect to last them a lifetime, it’s your job to give them safe choices.

3. Never give choices when the child is in danger. Example: running in a parking lot.

4. Never give choices unless you are willing to make the choice in the event the child refuses to choose.

5. Your delivery is important. Instead of using negative wording, try to start your sentence positively:

You’re welcome to ___________ or ___________.

Feel free to ____________or______________.

Would you rather __________or ______________.

Parent Practice: Giving Choices

Below are choices adults often give kids. Which ones help kids learn to make choices, and which ones are really threats “in disguise”?

• To a two year old: Do you want to hold my hand or be carried in this parking lot?

Answer: Choice

Explanation: two viable options are given to the child.

• To a three year old: Do you want to hold my hand or to get run over?

Answer: Threat

Explanation: Most children do not want to get run over, this is a threat. We do not want to scare our children into listening to us, as this may get the behavior we want in the short-term but not the trusting relationship we desire in the long-term.

• To a five year old: Do you want a cheese sandwich or a turkey sandwich?

Answer: Choice

Explanation: The child is given two food options that are viable.

• To a six year old: Do you want to wear your hat or your hood on your coat?

Answer: Choice

Explanation: This is a choice and accomplishes what the parent would like to happen with either option.

• To a seven year old: Do you want a spanking or do you want to leave the park now?

Answer: Threat

Explanation: This is a threat; the adult is exerting power over the child with physical threats. I never recommend using physical punishment with children and especially children from hard places.

• To an eight year old: Do you want to eat this chicken or go hungry?

Answer: Threat

Explanation: Children do not want to go hungry, especially children who have been hungry in the past due to neglect. This is not a choice because only one option is viable.

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About Stevie Wilson, LPC

Stevie Wilson is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in working with children and families.

View all posts by Stevie Wilson, LPC

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