How to Offer Choices to Your Kids That Really Work

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Many parents today prefer different parenting styles from how they were raised. But how do we strike the right balance between authoritative and democratic?

By Carolyn Bond

Many of today’s parents prefer different parenting styles from the way they were raised.

You don’t want to yell, and you don’t want to spank. You respect your children as fellow human beings and want them to be independent thinkers, so decide to take the more democratic approach of offering them opportunities to help make everyday decisions. Rather than giving orders, you’re asking questions and offering choices to your children. You want to have happier family lives based on love and respect.

But, in some cases, this isn’t working. Your children are overpowering you. What can be done about it?

Parents must reclaim their leadership role and make the decisions that they have the maturity and experience to make. A family needs to have strong guidance and you must step up to the plate, courageously establishing a working framework of order. Within that framework, you can offer choices instead of giving orders, letting your kids have a say in their lives, and a feeling of being a valuable part of the family.

There are three basic things to remember if you’ve opted for more democratic parenting styles:

Parents want to give our children freedom, but how do you balance that with authority and respect? A parenting expert shares 3 tips to make sure you remain in the driver's seat as a parent.

1. Parents are in charge of the family.

Until kids are mature enough to help make key decisions, you set up the family routine. You decide on mealtimes, bedtime, and playtimes, for example. The more stable and unchanging the routine, the better.

Children need the security of firm limits. They will often test them, but feel safer when limits are not elastic and ever changing. You, too, will feel more confident when there are schedules and routines in place. The wheels of the family run smoothly when all members know what to expect.

2. Within the perimeters that have been established, choices can be offered.

For example, on a snowy day, children must dress warmly. Instead of asking, “Do you want to put your snowsuit on now?” and opening the possibility of a negative reply, you would say in a friendly tone, “It’s time to get our coats on. Which leg do you want to put in first, this one or that one?” There is then no question of not wearing the snowsuit, but an opportunity to engage your child and give an option to him, without becoming authoritarian and causing him to rebel.

Bedtime is another example. In a cheery tone of voice you could say “Time to go up to bed. Do you want to count the stairs or shall we sing the ABCs as we go up?” There is no option given of staying up, just a choice of how to go to bed. When you start to think this way, you’ll find many areas where you might formerly have given orders, but can offer choices instead. Kids don’t dictate what happens, but can decide how it happens.

3. It’s crucial that parents are consistent in following through on the framework that they’ve put in place in their home.

If at all possible, routines should be as predictable as possible. Kids should know when mealtime will be, and when it’s time to get ready for bed. If you’ve had extra work to do at the office and are upset and feeling a bit guilty, don’t alter the routine and let the children stay up past their bedtime. You’re devaluing the system you’ve put in place and setting a precedent that will come back to haunt you over and over. You decide what is important, mean what you say, and stick to it as faithfully as possible. Kids thrive within solid limits that they can depend on.

When you take the reins of the family, and do so on a consistent basis, letting all family members have the opportunity to make some decisions within the orderly routine you’ve established, you’ll find family life will be more fulfilling. As well, your confidence in your parenting styles will grow and flourish, and life will be less stressful.

Carolyn BondCarolyn Bond is a graduate of the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto. She is a former social worker with an extensive parenting background. She raised four kids of her own as a single mom and with a partner, and has worked “in the trenches” with parents for over twenty years, helping them with parenting challenges. Learn more about her book, Parent with Confidence: Power Tools for Bringing Up Great Kids, as well as her blog and coaching programs, on her website howtobringupgreatkids.com. Her mission in life is to help parents be more effective in raising their children to be responsible, independent, generous, caring adults.

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