Updated: Sep 12, 2022
Children And Choice
by Dr. Joanne Foster – www.joannefoster.ca
“Choices are the hinges of destiny.”
~ Ancient Greek Philosopher Pythagoras
Children make choices every day. Whether it’s about what toys to play with, books to read, clothes or costumes to wear, food to eat, or something else altogether, children’s lives should be replete with opportunities to ponder and choose. Engaging in making choices enables a child to deliberate, understand consequences, and develop independence. Parents can help children comprehend that choice is empowering.
Decisions may be big, small, right, wrong, joyful, scary, impactful, inconsequential, regretful, and so on… Making choices can be tricky, but choosing is a process that underlies change, and it’s a forerunner to getting things accomplished!
CHILDREN AND CHOICE: WHAT TO REINFORCE?
“Opportunity knocks in different ways (including softly, harshly, and unexpectedly), but you have to be willing to answer that knock… What are your finest attributes? What can you draw upon?”
~ Bust Your BUTS, pp. 138, 139
Here are several suggestions for parents.
Follow your child’s lead. Support their choices as they decide where their preferences lie. Provide diverse experiences so that they can find and develop their passions and abilities, no matter how different they might be from your own, or how they might change over time.
Value your child’s viewpoints. Invite their opinions and support their curiosity. Connect new opportunities with familiar ones. Listen to kids’ ideas, questions, and concerns. Ensure that they know that it’s safe to ask for help if a choice or a decision becomes challenging for them and that they feel they can change their mind if the path forward proves to be too difficult. “When children sense that they have ownership of their activities and that their learning choices are respected, they are more inclined to commit to them and see them through.” (Not Now, Maybe Later, p. 109)
Ramp up the fun! Have a variety of materials on hand to encourage playful exploration and a range of creative outlets. For example, you might want to have art supplies, blocks, assorted rocks and pinecones, a costume bin, books with simple science experiments (make a volcano!), a globe, recipe books for kids, musical instruments, and anything else that might invite your child to choose an activity, expand their ideas, or get creative. Investigate multisensory activities within and outside your community. Stay open to whatever is goofy, spontaneous, or puzzling.
Emphasize the safety factor. Children function best when they feel secure, and this is especially true when they’re making choices, pushing their boundaries, or trying out new ways of doing things. Kids may require extra family support, guidance, reassurance, or a “safety net” of sorts — including co-creating a calm space or comfort zone when working their way through a tough choice.
Be patient and tolerant. Making choices can take time but pushing or nagging kids can be counterproductive. Honor your child’s thought processes and deliberations by giving encouragement, and then let them find their way. Try to be accepting of their choices (unless they’re totally inappropriate) or work to find a compromise. Avoid setting unnecessary constraints. Think before saying, “Don’t” or “You must…” or conveying other close-minded messages.
Help your child develop decision-making skills. This will hold them in good stead as they grow. Show why step-by-step thinking is important, and how discussion, planning, looking at options and then prioritizing can make a difference. See the article Empowering Kids to Make Decisions in the Creativity Post for lots of additional practical tips that relate to making choices.
Encourage and model effort. Sometimes children choose not to do things, including whether to use their capacities or put forth an effort. Pay careful attention to your child’s attitudes, preferences, influences, and behaviors. The word “no” can roll easily off the tongue. Kids may need help becoming focused, purposeful, patient, or whatever else it might take to become more engaged or cooperative. Be aware of when (and how) to reinforce, scaffold, step aside, join in, or praise. (Check out this article on Praising Children.) And, if your child stumbles, help them learn about resilience.
Exemplify what making choices is all about. Share with your child your own experiences with selection processes. For example, how you look at different aspects of a situation, think about possible outcomes, and appreciate that doing can be gratifying. You could chat about how making a choice can be a first step toward turning hopes into realities. Philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus said, “Life is the sum of all your choices.”
Focus on what your child can do. Encourage them to explore their enthusiasms and discover their strengths — that is, to extend themselves. The choice is theirs! Bolster their confidence. (See this article on Building Confidence.) Positive statements and self-talk — “I know what to do next!” or “I can do this!” — can help thwart self-doubt. (Professional athletes often use this technique.) Maintain reasonable expectations, ones that are fair, fitting, and manageable, so that your child does not feel overwhelmed when choices feel daunting.
“The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice.”
~ Victorian novelist and poet George Eliot
The world continues to change rapidly, and people who succeed are flexible, seize opportunities, and learn to make smart choices. A choice may be easy — a simple this or that, with little in the way of ramifications — or a choice may be more complicated and require considerable thought and maybe even a leap of faith.
Teach your child to think. (“Is there an upside? A downside? What have I done before? How did that turn out?”) Encourage them to use common sense, and to ask for assistance if need be. Most importantly, help them recognize that making choices is an inevitable part of life and that it can be motivating, and propel them forward. Choice is something that everyone experiences and learns from, contributing to who they are, what they do, and how today — and tomorrows — might unfold!
About the Author Dr. Joanne Foster is a gifted education specialist and the award-winning author of several books, including the 3 rd edition of Being Smart — Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change (co-authored with Dona Matthews, published by Gifted Unlimited LLC., 2021. www.giftedunlimitedllc.com). For additional resources on learning, creativity, motivation, children’s well-being, and more go to www.joannefoster.ca