Gone are the days where children were seen and not heard. In today’s world, it is very popular – expected in fact – to give children choices. One theory is that if a child is given a choice, say between the green and the red t-shirt, then he’d most likely follow through and not have a tantrum over having to get dressed.
The second theory is that children who are given the opportunity to make choices will naturally make intelligent choices later in life – practice makes perfect after all doesn’t it?
These theories are both true, and children do need to be given the opportunity to make choices. However, it is important that a child is not expected to make a choice that is beyond their ability to understand the consequences of that choice.
The difference between responsible and irresponsible choices
Preschool children should be allowed to make choices in their daily lives, however, these choices should only be ones that your child is capable of making. You should not give your child a choice that you will not accept, or one that will put them in harm’s way.
For example, it’s great to give a preschooler the choice between the red and blue t-shirt, but not whether they want to bath or not. Your preschooler cannot know that not bathing will potentially result in a health hazard a few days later. At this age, your child thinks on a very concrete level and abstract ideas are not within their grasp.
Using a rather extreme example is toddler-proofing your home, including putting safety plugs in sockets. You simply do not want to give your child the ability to choose whether they’d like to put their finger in the plug or not – this would be very unsafe and completely irresponsible.
Giving your preschooler safe and healthy choices
It would be inappropriate to allow a preschooler to eat chocolate for breakfast because that was their choice. Of course, the wonderful sweet taste is an instantly enjoyable experience and your toddler would likely choose it over and over again. But it’s simply unhealthy in the long term.
This doesn’t mean you cannot give your toddler a choice of different breakfasts, it just means that you have limited their choices to healthy options, for example, “Would you like French toast or cereal for breakfast?” In this way, your toddler’s choice will be guaranteed to be healthy and something that you’re comfortable with.
Another example of giving your toddler a healthy choice is when they are outgrowing their daytime nap at around the age of four. Your toddler is tired and cranky and you know they need to nap, but if you had to ask them if they’d like to have a nap, their answer would most surely be a loud ‘no!’
So, instead of asking them if they’d like to nap, try another strategy – give your child the option of taking a nap or reading a book during some quiet time. Guaranteed your child will choose the book and will most likely be asleep in no time anyway. If not, at least your child has benefited from some calming quiet time.
Keep choices limited
Toddlers can and should make choices, but these should be limited to two or three different options. Any more options are simply confusing. It is your job as a parent to narrow down the choices for your child and as time progresses and your child matures, they will be able to make healthy decisions.
You will ensure that your toddler is exposed only to the choices that they can responsibly be expected to make. You will be giving your child the ability to exercise their ability to choose and directly affect their environment, fostering valuable self-esteem.
The Practica Team
parents who know better… do better.
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