Why Choices Matter to Toddlers
Guided choices are a great tool for parents and educators alike! A guided choice is a choice set forth by the adult so the outcome is predetermined. However, the element of the choice puts the “power” into the child’s hands. Thus, the child feels in control of the situation by being able to make their own choice. Providing children with guided choices helps reduce tantrums and alleviates tension between the adult and the child. Likewise, choices take the focus off of the parent and child and put the focus on the child and the task. Not only does the child feel as though they have control of the situation, they also have a sense of responsibility placed into the mix. With the privilege of making choices comes the responsibility of dealing with the consequence, whether good or bad.
Some examples of guided choices are:
• “You can pick up the blocks or I will help you.”
• “Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt today?”
• “You can sit in your chair to eat or you will be finished with lunch.”
• “Would you like to buckle your seatbelt or would you like me to help you?”
Another reason for guided choices stems around safety and security. While toddler’s egocentrism makes them desire independence and freedom the reality is that too much can make them unsettled. Choices and limits set forth by the adult allow the toddler to feel safe and secure in their environment. Janet Lansbury explains, “Children need lots of opportunities to be autonomous and have their choices respected. At the same time, they also need to know they’re not in charge, and we demonstrate that through our confident, decisive, gentle leadership.” When toddlers feel safe, they are able to explore their environment and take part in the great work which they are meant to do.
Being a toddler teacher I see the power choices hold every day. Recently, I experienced firsthand hoe guided choices affect toddlers. I keep a small basket of animals up on a shelf for children to use if they forget their lovey for nap time. I had a little girl who had just turned three leave her stuffed animal at home for a few days in a row. Each day, from Monday to Thursday, she asked for a lovey to borrow and I presented her with a small stuffed cat or a small stuffed dog from which she could select one. Each day without hesitation she selected the dog. So on Friday when she asked me for a lovey to borrow I retrieved only the dog off of the shelf and handed it to her. She quickly retracted her hand and said, “I want to see the other one too.” I went back to the shelf and got the cat. I presented her the cat and the dog as I had the previous few days. She looked from one to the next for a few moments before selecting the dog and happily trotting to her mat for rest time.
This experience really got me thinking. If she was just going to choose the dog anyways why did she ask for the cat as well? I think it is simply because toddlers need choices. They need choices to function. They need choices to feel safe. They need choices to get through all the craziness of toddlerhood. Like I need coffee in the morning so too do toddlers need choices. Simple as that.
Things to remember:
• When you’re presenting a child with choices be sincere.
• Choices should be straightforward and simple.
• Only present a choice that you are prepared to follow through with.
• Always follow through with your choice or limit.
If you’d like more information on choices, limits, and discipline, please visit: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2012/05/setting-limits-with-toddlers-the-choices-they-cant-make/