Working together through continuous learning to improve the quality of life for all in DeKalb County, Indiana
An education initiative of the Community Foundation of DeKalb County

Using choices to avoid power struggles

The Star

by Nichole Hacha-Thomas

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A father and son are sitting at McDonald’s. The father stares at his son’s untouched Happy Meal and says, “Son, you either eat that hamburger right now, or we are going to sit here until you do.

Most parents know that offering their child choices can be an effective parenting strategy. Choices give the child a sense of control, helping to avert power struggles between parent and child. Choices also make a child think, and ultimately understand that her actions have consequences that she will have to live with. Parents understand this concept in theory, but sometimes have difficulty putting it into practice, resulting in a no-win scenario for the parent like the one above.

Dr. Foster Cline and Jim Fay, authors of “Parenting With Love and Logic,” offer the following guidelines for offering choices to your child:

  • Always be sure to select choices that you as a parent like. Never provide one you like and one you don’t, because the child will usually select the one you don’t like.
  • Never give a choice unless you are willing to allow the child to experience the consequences of that choice.
  • Never give choices when the child is in danger.
  • Never give choices unless you are willing to make the choice in the event that the child doesn’t. (While the parent may verbally offer two choices, it should be clear that a third is implied—-if the child does not choose, the parent will.)
  • Delivery is important. Choices offered should be real, and not veiled as threats. Try the following: “Would you rather clean your room or rake the lawn so that I’ll have time to clean your room?” instead of “You can either clean your room or lose your right to watch television.” Or try: “The car is leaving in 10 minutes, feel free to finish your meal here, or pack it up and take it home.”

Offering your child real options in a calm tone of voice gives him the opportunity to take control over his life. And, allowing your children to make choices also communicates to them that you have faith in their ability to do so.

Learning Link, launched in 2009, is an initiative of the DeKalb County Community Foundation that helps link people and organizations providing learning opportunities for children and adults and align their educational goals. This series, “What’s in your parenting toolbox?” is written by the Adult Lifelong Learning team which encourages adults to improve themselves, their families and their community through continuous learning.

Resource to help with choices

Book: “Parenting With Love and Logic”