Posted: Dec 11, 2013 6:00 AM
We all want our kids to demonstrate their independence by giving them choices, but I've realized too many choices overwhelm my kids and cause frustration for everyone. A simple "this one or this one?" gives my kids the satisfaction of making their own choice and narrows down too many options. The added benefit: Without them realizing it, I get a little say in the matter as well.

Earlier this year, right after my husband returned home from a two-week stay in the hospital and was unable to help out for a while, I had several frazzled mornings getting my daughter off to school. I always had a good running start on these mornings — up early, coffee made, music playing — but they tended to fall apart around getting dressed and making lunches. The usual scene went something like this:

"Lainey, do you want to wear this?"


"OK, how about this?"


"Ohhh! You love these pants! How about these?"


"OK, what do you want to wear?"

And then she'd rummage around for what seemed like forever until five minutes before we left, she still hadn't decided, and I'd have to go in there frustrated and stressed and make the decision for her. Which went over swimmingly.

Here I thought I was encouraging her independence, but the open-endedness of my questions was too much for her.

And it happened for breakfast and lunch choices as well — an overwhelming smorgasbord of decisions that ultimately frustrated us both. Here I thought I was encouraging her independence, but the open-endedness of my questions was too much for her, especially that early in the morning.

Finally one morning when my cousin was visiting, I had some sense knocked into me. After four "No" answers to what I was offering for lunch, she laughed and jumped in. "Will you be offended if I make a suggestion?" my cousin asked.

"No, please do!" I answered.

"Kelle, just make her lunch and don't ask her what she wants. Or make everything else but let her choose one thing like pretzels or popcorn."


The thing is, I knew better. I took all those child development courses in college, I've read all the stuff about the importance of both choices and boundaries, and yet somehow I'd slipped into this pattern of asking silly parenting questions. Of course "No" is going to be the answer of choice to, "Do you want to wear this?" To a child wanting to demonstrate independence, "No" feels assertive and strong to say while "Yes" can feel passive and compliant. Unless the choice is, "Do you want ice cream?" or, "Would you like to knock down that stack of blocks?" Of course.

We narrow down the choices, and a simple "this one or this one?" is doing the trick.

So, we narrow down the choices, and a simple "this one or this one?" is doing the trick. Peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese? Polka dot dress or pink skirt with the striped tee? My 3-year-old is particularly thrilled with these questions right now, and choosing her pajamas has become a nightly game. She smiles as I lay out two sets, and even though by the twinkle in her eye I can tell she's already made up her mind, she waits for me to point to each and give her her cue to respond.

I introduce both choices with as much Vanna White as I can muster, dramatically waving my hands over each pair of pajamas as I describe them, and she follows with a proud declaration of her choice — "I want dis one."

While the two-choice theory — which has expanded to three or four choices for my 6-year-old — isn't completely foolproof (Note: They'll catch on if you never include their favorite twirly dress as one of their choices), it's not only saved us a lot of time and frustration in the morning, but it gives us both a say in the matter. If I don't want my daughter wearing the too-small, wrinkled Hello Kitty shirt to school, I simply don't include it in our choices. Is she close to catching on that she can still fight for it? Perhaps, but I'm enjoying this window while it's open.

Authoritative parenting — the caring yet structured balance between authoritarian and permissive — can be a tough feat sometimes. But when you find it, it feels good — a comfortable fit for both parents and child.

Now if only someone could narrow down my choices of what to make for dinner.

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