Preschool Behavior Tip – Appropriate Choices

Offering choices teaches life skills and can actually improve behavior. Preschoolers need to practice decision-making skills and parents need preschoolers to stay on schedule, clean up and brush their teeth, along with a number of other issues.  When parents offer age appropriate choices, both preschoolers and parents get behavior benefits. By following simple guidelines, parents can offer choices that give preschoolers a sense of control and improve preschooler behavior.

What Choices are Appropriate to Give Preschoolers?

There are endless possibilities of appropriate choices to offer to preschoolers. Here are a few examples of choices that preschoolers can start making decisions about.

Clothes“I’ve laid out two sets of clothes on your bed. Choose one and get dressed.”; “Which shirt would you like to wear today? Your blue one or your red one?”; Parents can also use clothespins to keep outfits together and preschoolers can choose one of the outfits to wear each day.

Clean up“Are you going to clean up the blocks first or the cars?”; “What do you want to clean up first? Your bike or the sidewalk chalk?”; “Would you like to put away your toys like a ballerina or a pony?”

Learning New Skills “Would you like for me to hold your hand while you jump down from (from playground equipment) or would you like to do it by yourself?”; “Do you want help getting your shoes on or would you like to put them on by yourself?”

What Choices are Not Appropriate To Give Preschoolers?

Safety Issues – Do not offer preschoolers a choice between being safe and doing something dangerous. When your preschooler wants to do something unsafe, redirect them to choices that are safe.

All Day Long – Don’t overwhelm preschoolers with choices about everything in their day. Making decisions is a new skill for preschoolers and they can become overwhelmed with the new responsibility of making choices. Ease your preschooler into choices by gradually increasing the number of choices preschoolers get to make on a daily basis. Also, the responsibility of making choices can be a little scary and preschoolers usually want to know that parents are still going to make most of the decisions in a preschooler’s life.

When There Isn’t A Choice – Do not offer choices when there isn’t a choice. If you have chosen specific clothes for your preschooler to wear to have a special photo taken, then there isn’t a choice to offer your preschooler about clothes.

Guidelines for Offering Appropriate Choices

  1. Both choices must be acceptable to the parent. Offer choices in a way so that either choice the preschooler makes will be acceptable to you. If you can’t think of a way to offer a choice in a way that either choice is acceptable to you, then do not offer choices to your preschooler.

Appropriate Choice “Do you want to sit on the porch or the lawn chair to take off your muddy shoes before you come inside?”

Inappropriate Choice“Do you want to take off your muddy shoes out here on the porch or in your room?”

  1. Both choices must be respectful to the preschooler. Only offer choices that the child will perceive as respectful.

Appropriate Choice“How would you like to get into your car seat? Would you like to hop like a frog or slither like a snake?”

Inappropriate Choice“Do you want to get in your car seat or go sit in time out?”

  1. Truly present choices as a choice. Use mannerisms, language and tone of voice to send preschoolers the message that they truly have ownership of the choices.

Appropriate Choice“Do you want to wear the yellow dress or the red dress?”

Inappropriate Choice“Do you want to wear this beautiful new yellow dress that Grandma bought you or this yucky, old red dress?”

Benefits to Preschoolers

Decision Making Skills – Preschoolers can learn to make decisions in a safe environment where parents are offering limited choices.

Improved Self Esteem – As preschoolers gain independence, their sense of self-esteem grows. Learning to make choices helps preschoolers have healthy control over their lives.

Healthy Personal Power –Offering appropriate choices offers personal power to preschoolers in a healthy way that supports their social and emotional development towards independence.

Benefits to Parents

Helps Parents “Let Go” in Small Steps  – Parents can learn to turn over some simple decisions to preschoolers. It can be tough for some parents to allow their “babies” to develop into preschoolers who have their own opinions and are making small steps towards independence.

Decreases Power Struggles – When parents offer appropriate choices to preschoolers, many power struggles can be avoided. Parents sometimes realize that they are engaging in power struggles with preschoolers over silly issues. Does it really matter if the blocks or the cars are put away first? Preschoolers need healthy ownership over some issues of their lives.

Supports Healthy Development for Preschoolers – Through it can be difficult for parents to turn over some responsibility to preschoolers, remember that turning over decisions gradually to children is a part of healthy development.