Helping kids make constructive choices

Responsible behavior includes the ability to connect “what I’ve done” to “what happens (or happened) as a result of what I’ve done.” Likewise, self-concept is influenced by an individual’s belief that “I have the power and ability to impact my environment and change what isn’t working in my life.”

Offering choices not only builds valuable life-long skills, it also a way to create win-win power dynamics in your classroom (and family). Additionally a positive sense of empowerment is reinforced every time an individual has the opportunity to experience the outcomes of his or her own choosing. Offering choices—within limits that don’t make you crazy—has numerous advantages, including:

  • It models flexibility and respect on our part.
  • It provides ways for the child to meet various learning needs.
  • It generates commitment from young people.
  • It empowers kids and increases the likelihood of cooperative behavior.
  • It teaches self-management and builds decision-making skills
  • It helps kids connect their choices to the outcomes of their choices.
  • It offers children opportunities to develop and practice valuable skills such as exploring available options and weighing alternatives, identifying personal preferences, making independent choices and developing a sense of multiple options or solutions in problem-solving situations
  • It increases the opportunity for young people to take responsibility and initiative in their own learning.
  • It decreases resistance and defiance that often accompany demands.

This material was originally developed for educators. It included the following list of suggestions for choices they could make available to students in their classroom. See how you can adapt this to your home life. The opportunities are certainly there, and many of the items below can apply.

  • deciding which of two activities or chores to do first
  • deciding which two crayons to use in a drawing
  • deciding which two of three language puzzles to complete
  • deciding which 10 math problems to do on page 174.
  • deciding where to sit for independent work or where to do homework.
  • deciding whether to submit a final project on on paper or electronically.
  • deciding on a work space where he or she will not be tempted to talk or vulnerable to distractions.
  • deciding, in a group, how to share 2 cookies between 3 people so that all 3 are satisfied

    with the decision.

  • deciding which science experiment to conduct to demonstrate photosynthesis
  • deciding how to arrange certain materials in a display
  • deciding the order in which the class will discuss certain non-sequential topics
  • deciding to which rock star to write a fan letter.
  • deciding on a 1-minute break now or a 3-minute break in 10 minutes.
  • deciding which center to visit during self-selection
  • deciding whether to display your drawing or take it home (or where to display it in the house)
  • deciding whether or not they still need more practice on a particular skill
  • choosing 3 out of the 5 activities suggested in the biology contract (or on a list of chores)
  • designing his or her own project to demonstrate a particular concept
  • deciding on specific strategies to prove trustworthiness
  • selecting 10 out of the 20 spelling words on the list to master this week
  • choosing a partner for a given project or activity.
  • deciding whether to do the 15 math problems on the board or the 15 problems in the book.
  • exploring 10 topics or questions about the country of their choice
  • identifying a cause you feel passionate about and proposing a specific course of action

Other choices you can offer in your own classroom or home:

 

Note: Remember that in offering choices, make sure that all options you offer are acceptable. Don’t expect the kids to “people-please” by choosing the “right” option or reading your mind. Not all things are negotiable, but when you have the opportunity to offer choices, do so honestly.

Also, if your kids are overwhelmed by choices—which is quite common among older children who have been conditioned from years of being told what to do (or not having had many opportunities to make choices) and also among young children who are offered too many choices to begin with—start slowly, with few choices and, if necessary, time limits for making the choices (after which, you get to choose).

It may always seem easier and faster to just tell your kids what to do, but the time invested in giving choices will pay off handsomely in the long run—for both them and you!

Originally adapted from Being a Successful Teacher by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D. (Fearon Teacher Aids, Frank Schaffer Publications, Inc., 1989). 

© 1986, 1989, 2001, 2016, 2022, Jane Bluestein, Ph.D.

Related resources

Guidelines for offering choices to students
Guidelines for offering choices to your children

Book: The Win-Win Classroom 
Book: The Beginning Teacher’s Survival Guide: Win-Win Strategies for Success
Book: The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting 
Book: Managing 21st Century Classrooms: How do I Avoid Ineffective Classroom Management Practices?

Podcast: The Choice is Yours with Dr. Lynn Collins
Podcast: Is Control the Goal? with Tammy Cox

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