The Power of a Choice

One of my favorite parenting books is “Parenting with Love & Logic”. The cornerstone of this book is that we have the opportunity to make almost every moment a teachable moment for our children. Every choice they make has a consequence and if our children can learn that lesson early in life, when the stakes are lower, they will be on the right track. The stakes are so much lower when the choice : consequence ratio is throw a tantrum at the park : oh, bummer play date is over, versus, have sex with my girlfriend : oh, bummer, she is pregnant.

The author also encourages empowering your child by offering him as many choices as you can through out the day. I was reminded yesterday of the wonderful, wonderful “out” that offering a simple choice can give me with my kids when their meltdown is moving from 0 to 60. It allows my children to feel like they have a little bit of power to choose, and it allows me to have a bit of control by introducing 2 great options.

Here is what this looked like for me yesterday. I was heading to the grocery store with my 3 year old where they have these little mini shopping carts for the kids to push as “shoppers in training”. Clearly, whoever ordered the fleet of these mini shopping carts is not a parent. Because if they were, they would know that fellow shoppers do not think it is cute when “shoppers in training” ram their ankles with the carts. Nor, do they have a whole lot of grace when “shoppers in training” block the aisles and race their carts pretending that they are tractors or trucks or race cars. And, they really, really do not enjoy when these “shoppers in training” turn their carts too quickly, causing them to tip over and spill all the contents across the floor – resulting in a traffic jam, and a screaming kid who is scared and very upset that all his shopping items have gone flying across the store.

So, as we were walking into the store, I noticed that the “mini shopping carts” were all lined up and waiting to be used. My son noticed too. He starts clapping and announcing that he would like to push the little cart today. I got down on my knees in front of him and smiled and gave him a choice: “Hey buddy, there are a lot of people here today. We aren’t going to use the little carts today. Here is your choice: do you want to walk and help mom put things in the big tractor cart (does not look anything like a tractor), or, do you want to ride in the cart and have mom give you tickles while we walk?”

He tried to choose the little cart again, but I just restated the choices and he settled on walking like a big boy.

Crisis averted. Road rage from fellow shoppers averted. Sweaty & stressed out mama syndrome averted.

Another way that choices work well for us is when we are ending our park time or a play date. I will announce, “We have 5 more minutes. Are you going to swing for the last 5 few minutes or are you going to do monkey bars and slide one last time?”

Do choices work for you? Got any favorite parenting books that you re-read to remind yourself of good methods?


  1. I think "choices" are important but yet teaching children to be obedient and listen is even more. Life does not revolve around him/her...when he gets older his boss will probaly not give choice but "commands"....

    My kids EARN the right to choose after they show an obedient heart to what I have told them.

    I did laugh about the cart..we have those here out ankles!
    sandy toe

  2. What a great post, and I'm bookmarking that book for a future purchase. Since my only child is still a baby, I haven't had to think about these kinds of situations yet...but I totally understand how giving kids choices is empowering. It is to adults too!

  3. I think it's funny that you stated that who ever thought of the "shoppers in training" was not a mom, becuase my mom and I were just talking about the other day how we thought it was a great idea and wishes grocery stores would do that. However I wasn't thinking about all the stuff you listed to go with it. Interesting? Needless to say, we dont have those here. (Dallas) However, I just want to say way to go on choices, I try to do that as well, but they don't work for me. He still insists on his own way and acts like I'm not even talking, where in which, he just does whatever I perfer. It's frustrating and just proves all kids are different. My little man is for the most part obedient though, but he is finding out he has a new freedom he needs to explore.

  4. I vary in my approach. We parent a bit different than some in that we use "attachment parenting" and follow a lot of Alfie Kohn's ideas. I believe that my purpose as a parent is to raise a thinking child, not a robot. I inform and work with my children through most situations. Sometimes choices work well, sometimes they simply don't because my child's desires don't align with the options. When this happens, if we have the time, I allow them to explain their point of view. We've had the same issues with those little carts - and with it I will tell my older son that it is a treat to be able to have a cart, but if it is misused the consequence is it will need to be put back. That's it...then if he does misuse it either he or I return the cart. I've also found that if he has the cart he needs to have a few items that he's in charge of finding and keeping "safe" in his cart. If it is a day when the cart is too much of a hassle I'll tell him, " I know it's important to you to use the carts here, but I am in a hurry and don't have the patience for the little cart. So, for my needs we have to leave the cart." Even if he fusses I stand by this choice just to make sure he understands that others have feelings that matter, too.

    Other great reads on this are: Raising a Thinking Child
    Punished By Rewards
    Raising Our Children Raising Ourselves
    Unconditional Parenting
    Playful Parenting

  5. My husband does the little cart with our 2 year old and he is super fun dad. I need to be in control so he sits in the cart with me. I have found that a lot of snacks make shopping more fun for everyone!

    I try to give choices because it allows up both to be in control. I would be happy with either choice that he makes. There are sometimes when it is what it is. This is the only option.

    My son is having a hard time listening sometimes and a girlfriend just recommended the same book, so I will check it out. Great post.


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