Most caregivers would tell you that their biggest goal is to raise happy and healthy children. Simple, right? In a world often filled with uncertainty and instability, this can sometimes feel like a feat within itself. As adults, we often face our own struggles and find it difficult to be happy and healthy so how on earth are we supposed to help our children feel something that at times feels unattainable for ourselves?! The biggest piece of the puzzle we call life is how do we find empowerment and self-fulfillment from within rather than from outside sources. So as caregivers, here is one way that you can help your child build their self-esteem and confidence in order to lead happier and healthier lives.
Have you ever felt powerless or helpless? Imagine having that feeling all day, every day. Children are inherently powerless; their days are generally planned out for them from the breakfast that is served to the predetermined time they must get in bed. When children engage in power struggles it is often due to increased feelings of powerlessness and they are grabbing for any autonomy they can get. Offering choices gives children responsibility, ownership of their decisions, and overall decision-making skills, all of which provide them with space to develop healthy skills to teach independence while still in a supportive and safe environment.
There are two types of choices you can provide for your kids, empowerment choices and enforcement choices.
Empowerment Choices are just that, choices made for the sake of empowerment with no real negative outcomes. These choices are provided when either option is acceptable and there is no potential harm. These choices should be offered before there is a problem, not in response to a problem and they should never be used as a threat. For example:
- “You can choose the red shirt, or you can choose the blue shirt.”
- “You can choose to do your homework before your snack, or you can choose to do your homework after your snack.”
- “You can choose to wash your hands in the bathroom, or you can choose to wash your hands in the kitchen.”
If your child pushes back or tries to choose another option, you remain neutral, validate their feelings, (if acceptable you can offer that as a choice next time), and then return to the original choices. For example:
- Caregiver: “You can choose peas, or you can choose carrots.”
- Child: “I want broccoli!”
- Caregiver: “You really like broccoli. That is not a choice for tonight, but you can choose broccoli for tomorrow night. Tonight, you can choose peas, or you can choose carrots.”
Enforcement Choices are used when you give a child an alternative in order to set a limit. We often think of coming in strong when our kids are pushing back or fighting us at every turn. As we discussed above, often this happens due to children trying to regain control in whatever ways they can. Enforcement choices honor the child’s desire for control while presenting them with choices connected with a limit. Here are some examples:
- Caregiver: “You can choose to color with the marker on the white paper or you can choose the cardboard. If you choose to draw on your skin, you are choosing to lose the markers for the rest of the day.”
- Child: *colors on themself*
- Caregiver: “Well, it looks like you chose to color on yourself, so you chose to lose the markers for the rest of today. We can try again tomorrow.”
The most important part of enforcement choices is our ability, as adults, to remain calm and gentle. We often lose our cool after we have told our kid 5 times to “cut that out,” but the key is setting the limit early on. Again, if our child is seeking control the best thing we can do is put the power back into their hands so that they can begin to understand that by choosing something preferred they are also choosing a consequence.