Parenting Myth: Good Parents Offer Choices

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

By Melissa Ford

Coach - Personal & Business

Offering choices to children has become a popular parenting approach. For example, you provide your son with the choice between an apple or a banana at snack time. After dinner you offer your daughter the choice of doing her homework at the kitchen table or in the dining room. It's bedtime; do you want to read the book or do you want me to read it? 

Providing choices is key to promoting autonomy, competence, giving kids a sense of control, teaching decision-making skills, enhancing children's well-being, and encouraging responsibility. Choices are an important way to guide and support our children. 

Yet it's equally important to know choices are optional. 

When I was growing up, the authoritarian parent was the acceptable child-rearing style. Parents were the dictators and the disciplinarians. They told you what to do, when to do it, and how to do it; you had a limited voice in matters. For the most part, offering choices to children was considered ineffective parenting because it diminished a parent's authority.  

Fast-forward to my parenting days. Early on I made the decision that choices would be offered to my children. My kids would not experience the anger and powerlessness of being dictated to. But I ran into a problem: sometimes my children would make choices I preferred they hadn't. 

Imagine getting ready to go out for dinner and your child has a meltdown. You calmly state, "You have a choice. You can either pull yourself together or Daddy will have dinner without us and we'll stay home." I had the child who chose to stay home as my husband happily dined by himself. Or you inform your child that he has a choice to do homework now or forgo video games. My kid would hand me the controller and in a nonchalant manner say, "That's okay; I really don't care whether or not I play."  

Unbeknownst to me, I had swung the parental pendulum from authoritarian to indulgent by offering too many choices.  

Offering too many choices put the power into my children's hands to decide my fate (and theirs), yet denying choices was about control and obedience. Was there a middle ground? Taking a closer look at my own childhood, I realized it wasn't the lack of a choices that I found problematic; it was the implied messages behind the authoritarian attitude: "You will do what I say because I'm the parent and you are the child. I have the power and you don't. And, if you refuse to do as I say, be afraid."  

I had thrown the baby out with the bath water.

By believing that a good parent only offered choices and a bad parent denied options, I had become ineffective. There were definitely times I needed to set boundaries and establish clear expectations such as, "Homework is your job. It's time to sit down and work." Or "Everyone is going to the family party. Be ready in an hour." Yet I could replace the authoritarian attitude with one of loving kindness so my implied messages could be heard loud and clear: "I am the parent and you are the child, and these are my expectations because I love you and want the best for you." 

Good parents offer more than choices; they provide expectations and standards sent with powerful messages of love. 



Love the Journal?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Wednesday Journal and We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

Reader Comments

No Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2019

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad