Offering your child choices has lots of benefits – for everyone!
For toddlers, presenting them with a choice helps to develop their language skills in two ways. Firstly, by providing them with the names of objects or actions. When you hold out two pieces of fruit and ask your child “Do you want apple or banana?”, you are also teaching or reinforcing these food names in your little one’s vocabulary. By asking “Throw or kick the ball?” you’re pairing words with actions for them to learn from and copy.
To maximise these learning opportunities, be sure to clearly match the words with the objects or actions. “Throw (gesture throwing the ball)….. or kick (pretend to kick the ball)?” “Do you want an apple (hold out the apple) or banana (hold out the banana)?” Continue holding out both pieces of fruit while your child is deciding. Depending on their age, your child might respond to this question by looking more at the object they want, pointing to it, or repeating the word back. You can then reinforce their response by saying “You want apple? There you are”.
Secondly, asking them to choose provides an opportunity for your toddler to learn about questions and answers. That is, when you start a sentences with “Do you want….?”, they learn that they are expected to answer and that how they respond affects your actions. By pointing to or saying “apple” after you ask this question, it means they will be presented with a delicious, juicy, crunchy piece of fruit.
Another benefit of offering your child choices, regardless of their age, is that it gives them an element of control over their world. Children don’t always get a lot of say in what they do on any given day. They might have to get out of bed when you ask them to, go to child care or school, accompany their parents to the post office, doctors, supermarket, pharmacy, shoe shopping….. you get the idea. So it’s hardly surprising that it sometimes becomes all too much and you find your child throwing a wobbly in the bread aisle. By giving your child a choice, it can help them feel just that bit more empowered about what goes on around them.
Which brings me to my next point – what kind of choices can you give your child? The answer is: anything that you’re happy to negotiate on. Need them to get dressed right now because you need to be out the door in 10 minutes? Then asking them whether they’d like to get dressed now isn’t going to work. What you can do, however, is ask them what they’d like to wear. “Do you want the red shirt today or the blue one?” “Pink dress with fairies or pink dress with flowers?” This kind of questioning helps reduce all the options down to a manageable size while still keeping an element of choice.
Other situations you may not want to negotiate on are snack time (“Do you want grapes or carrot?”), bath time (“Strawberry or bubblegum flavoured bubbles?”), and leaving the playground (“Do you want me to carry you or walk?” “Walk or hop back to the car?”). The other bonus is that by offering them a choice about HOW they want to do something, you might be able to take their mind off WHAT they have to do.