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Children and Choices

Dear Mr. Sudsberry:

I want to ask you about something I find difficult with my 6-year-old daughter.  I’ve always read that you should give “a child choices”.  I tell her for example: “you can wear one of two outfits” I pick out, but she still wants to wear something else, and throws a fit if I don’t let her.  We argue, I spank her or if there’s not time to deal with her, I let her wear her choice and we both end up frustrated.  

Signed: A frustrated parent

Dear Frustrated Parent:

The idea of choices is a good one and a popular one for authors to write about today.  One point that’s very important in your idea of choices is that you are defining the limits of choice for her to make.  To use your example, giving your daughter a choice of one or two outfits is very important.  This helps her make choices, but as parent maintains your oversight as to what’s good for her life.  This oversight process should be maintained through out her development.  As she matures you may turn more choices over to her as she reflects good decision-making.  The problem of her tantrums is her attempt at manipulation of the choices given.  Next time let her know that if she doesn’t choose among the outfits you have given her she will lose the privilege of deciding.   At that point (if she’s acting up or insisting on a different option) use time out as needed, then require her to put on the outfit of your choosing.  Clearly state that cooperation will lead to her having choices, not cooperating loses the privilege to decide.   Spanking isn’t as important in this situation as helping her learn the responsibility of good choice making.  In fact, any discipline will only be important as you are believable to her.  That is showing her that you are capable of backing up what you said to her. The more secure and calm you are in leading your child the more responsive she will become.  Act in support of your position and your daughter will learn to follow.  Keep your anger out of the problem or your daughter will see your anger as the problem.  In calm secure action you change her rather than her frustrating your life.  It may take a time or two for her to become convinced that you are completely believable about this, but your daughter will change and integrate these ideas responsively. 

Lead wisely and your child will follow.

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