Parent Talk System with Kerry Spina (Parent Educator and Certified Parent Talk Trainer).
“Choices are a powerful tool which allow parents to set reasonable limits for their children while, at the same time, promoting independence and healthy self-esteem.” Sarah Knapp
We hear all too often in the Positive Parenting circles that choices are vital to a child’s developing self-esteem and ability to be responsible and response-able. There is power in choice. Giving children some choice, some degree of influence over their own lives increases their sense of personal power. If they have no choice, they have no power. If they have too many choices, they can become overwhelmed.
Whenever feasible, use language that gives children choices. This increases their decision making ability and gives them an opportunity to exercise the personal power that is available to them. Our children are guided all day long by us, it is important for them to begin to know that they can and do make their own choices. One day, they will go to kindy, go to school and eventually leave the family home and it’s important for when they do, so they can think and make effective choices for themselves.
When speaking of giving your child personal power, it is power with, not power over. As children perceive and act on the choices they have, their perception of themselves as capable and empowered individual’s increases. As they continue to grow through their developing years they become aware of the cause and effect nature their choices have on themselves, their relationships and environments.
Here are some examples from Parent Talk System. ‘Choice Language’ that offer the child a choice.
“Do you prefer toast or a muffin this morning?”
“Do you want to do the dishes now or after you call your friend?”
“You can have a second piece of pie now or save it until the morning.”
“You can choose the red truck or the blue one.”
“Would you like the blue cup or the yellow one?”
Choice making is like anything else. It takes practice to get better. Do children make poor choices… sometimes? Of course, but with practice, they improve. I liken it to building upon the ‘choice making’ muscles.
“Your child’s ability to make choices begins with your decision to offer them. The more opportunity for your child to practice making the choices the more effective they get at making them.” Chick Moorman – Co-founder of Parent Talk System and author of Parent Talk.
A great way to begin giving choices is through limited choice or controlled choices. This is a choice where you as the parent are not committed to the outcome either way. At Kids in Harmony we have the children choose a blue mat or a green mat. The outcome does not matter to us. What we are encouraging is your child’s awareness of choices and they have a choice of which mat they choose on the day. Controlled choice is preferable to unlimited choice. When choices aren’t unlimited, children often feel overwhelmed and have difficulty deciding. “You can have any cereal on the shelf” is an example of an unlimited choice. “Granola or Porridge, is the decision for today” reflects controlled (or limited) choice. Limited choice is an example of shared control in action. You have control because you control the number of choices. Your child has control because he gets to pick, choose or decide from the choices offered. As your child ages, you can begin to practice unlimited choices and see how they go with it.
Choose, decide and pick are three words from the ‘Parent Talk System’ that can be used to teach children that they are in control of their own behavior and attitudes.
If you want to help your children see themselves as responsible for their own
behaviour, feelings and attitudes; adding these three special words, “choose,
decide and pick,” to your Parent Talk. Right them on your fridge door as a reminder to notice when you see or experience your child making choices.
I noticed you decided to pick a green cup today.
- How come you picked your grumpy mood?
- What response will you choose if the problems get tougher?
- How did you decide to act when your coach pulled you out of the game?
- I noticed you chose to be friendly to the new child at play group today.
- I noticed you decided to be really angry with your sister when she took your toy
- What made you choose to laugh when your brother fell over?
- What do you think you will pick if you are offered the Captain of the football team or the Leader of debating team.
- I noticed you chose the blue mat today at Kids in Harmony.
- I noticed you being gentle with your brother.
- I noticed how kind you were to your friend when they hurt themselves.
These small moments taken to acknowledge your child’s choice making in action can shine the light on many behaviours you want to encourage. It also is a powerful way of nurturing mindfulness (self-awareness) and giving descriptive and meaningful praise.
“Your child is NEVER too young to start building upon their choice making muscle.” Kerry Spina
Start as early as you can.
Even a feeding child may show preference to feeding from one side or the other. I noticed you only chose half of your bottle. I notice you chose to feed from Mummy’s right side today. I notice you picked your fluffy toy to chew. I noticed you enjoyed your tummy time more today. I noticed you decided not to sleep for too long today ;). I notice you chose to eat your carrots and not your peas.
Enjoy the many ways you can use verbal skills in your parenting to encourage responsible, response-able children. Choice language helps you to feel more purposeful in your parenting. Being able to speak to your child in a way that nurtures understanding, resilience, cooperation and trust is a sure way to raise independent, caring and confident kids.
Enjoy the journey, until then.
Happy whole-hearted parenting,