THE DANGER OF TOO MANY CHOICES
As a parent in the throes of raising kids, I’m constantly brainstorming about what I can do to prevent raising spoiled brats. This article is birthed out of the awareness that we haven’t been super successful in avoiding that in our household. It’s on the forefront of my mind that we live in a society bombarded with a plethora of options that has resulted in ungrateful & disrespectful people who cling to a sense of entitlement.
Obviously none of us want our kids to be demanding little terrors. And I’m the first to acknowledge that we cannot control our kids & force them to be pleasant. We can’t be blamed for their poor decisions, but it behooves us to at least consider how we might be contributing to the unwanted attitudes we see in our kids.
In my undergraduate child development courses, we were taught one of the most common tricks of the trade for working with toddlers: give choices. I loved the idea & didn’t think twice about the potential downfall of overusing this technique…that is, until rearing my own kids.
I’m a proponent of using choices as a preventative technique with children & have utilized this helpful tool for close to 20 years. I also endorse the discipline technique of helping kids recognize that they have the power to choose their behavior & are responsible for the resulting consequences. But what I’ve come to realize is that giving unnecessary choices can reinforce children’s natural, selfish tendencies. I wish we wouldn’t have given our children so many choices at such a young age. I’m in the process of re-training my children to see that their opinions are not as important as my husband & I may have inadvertently led them to believe.
This article is not about convincing you to scratch the technique of choice-giving, but to challenge you to consider the ramifications of overusing this tool. Offering choices can provide opportunities for children to learn to make good decisions. But when we too frequently utilize this parenting tool, we can unintentionally encourage our kids to be consumed with their own selfish desires. Think about it. We open a hypothetical door when we ask a young child, “Which one do you want?” What are the key words in that phrase?...YOU & WANT! We’re emphasizing that what they want is important. Yes, it is important, sometimes. But when this type of question is offered frequently, then we only reinforce the idea that their opinion is critical. We can accidentally support their innate belief that life is all about them & what they want. Then as they get older, we’re stuck with them valuing their opinions & preferences too much!
Our American land of a million choices can actually result in a life of discontentment. Hungry people in a third-world country are grateful for any food they can get their hands on. Those with a multitude of options are prone to grumbling & complaining. We want our kids to shine in this culture & be the ones who say, “Thanks Mom & Dad for dinner!” vs. “Are we having spaghetti again? I hate spaghetti!” And we want our kids to be the ones who say, “Thanks Mom & Dad for taking us to the park today!” vs. “Do we have to go to the park again? I’m so tired of going to the park. Why can’t we go somewhere else?”
Opinionated people are usually not fun to be with, especially when you’re the one in charge of them. We want kids to learn to be good followers & to trust that their leaders have their best interest in mind. To quote my husband, “Being an opinionated person is naturally in conflict with being a good follower.” It’s challenging for someone to submit to authority when he/she is always dictated by his/her strong feelings. And if we’re frequently asking our little kids for their opinions, then they’ll come to assume that their preferences are crucially important. People who value their own wants & wishes over others are lousy team players & have the tendency to resist authority.
I’ve noticed that children of large families are forced to go with the flow & are often more content as a result. Sometimes I like to pretend that we have a large family. I ask myself, “If I had more kids, would I be so accommodating right now?” Parents with several kids don’t have time to ask each child what color plate & cup he/she wants with lunch. You just get what you get & you don’t throw a fit!
It’s easy to get in the habit of providing choices simply to avoid conflict & temper tantrums. When we find ourselves making subtle parenting decisions based on fear of our child’s response, then that’s a red flag that we’ve accidentally handed over too much power. It’s tempting to give choices all the time because none of us like to hear our kids complain. And sometimes we’re just too tired to make a decision. But before abdicating your role as the decision maker, consider the potential adverse long-term effects. We don’t want to train our kids to expect to have a say in every situation.
Let me make it clear that children are valuable & their wants & wishes are too. It’s all about balance. Use choice-giving when necessary, but don’t overdo it. Asking, “Do you want to hold my hand like this or like this when we cross the street?” is a great distraction technique to use with a strong-willed three-year-old. The choice forces the child to use their brain power to make their decision, which prevents them from focusing so much on their emotions. But when asking your child for their preferences becomes your primary parenting model, you’re in for some trouble.
Another thought to contemplate is that choices can produce anxiety. Sometimes having to make a decision is more than a child can or needs to handle. Be cautious of giving children options more often than necessary. Consider serving their dinner without asking which plate, fork, cup, foods, drink & chair they want. (Trust me, I know this is hard for those of us who like to please.)
Bottom line…If you want to raise unhappy & ungrateful children, start teaching them as toddlers that they need to have an opinion about everything by frequently asking them what they want. If you’re trying to prevent your child from becoming demanding, ask yourself, “Is giving a choice right now really necessary & beneficial?” If your young child is not picky about what they wear, don’t create a picky child by asking them what they want to wear. Let them remain content & save the choices for a more critical time. As they get older, they will have plenty of opportunities to express their unique style.
(As a side note, dealing with extremely picky eaters is a separate, delicate topic that might require a different approach than normally recommended. Those kids are usually struggling for more control & may benefit from having more options than most.)
Empowering children by presenting choices can be beneficial. But when this approach becomes your default mode with little children, you can inadvertently communicate that your child’s desires are always priority. Utilize the handy dandy technique of distracting with choices, but use it sparingly. By preventing this strategic tool from becoming a habit, you just might help prevent your child from becoming demanding.
HERE’S TO RAISING CHILDREN WHO ARE
EMPOWERED TO BE GRATEFUL & UNSELFISH!
**FYI, the type of choice-giving discussed in this article is a separate topic than the discipline method of choice-giving presented by my father-in-law in his books & video. If looking for an effective discipline technique, I recommend Garry Landreth’s video “Choices, Cookies & Kids.”
Have you ever considered the risks of giving too many choices? Please leave your comments regarding the connection between ingratitude & choice-giving. And of course, please share a link to this post if you liked it.