You tell your children to brush their teeth for bed, and they refuse. You slave away making dinner only to have your children push their plates away. Or maybe things in your home have escalated a bit. Does the mere mention of homework result in tears? Is getting your children to leave the playground a full body workout? If this sounds like your life, I have a simple trick for you to try.
Offer more choices.
Often times when adults are faced with children’s challenging behaviors, they want to know how to react or how to deal with the behaviors. Maybe you have tried time-outs or taking away privileges. Let’s back up a minute. What if there was a way to avoid these power struggles? Positive behavior interventions look at ways to prevent challenging behaviors from occurring. Choice making is one of the tools in the positive behavior intervention tool box.
Allowing children to make choices gives them a sense of power over their circumstances. Think about the number of directives children hear every day.
Eat three bites of oatmeal.
Brush your teeth.
Get your shoes on.
Let’s get in the car. Time to go to school.
And that’s just a few to start their day.
Offering choices has been shown to reduce challenging behaviors (Dunap et al., 1994; Jolivetter, et al., 2002; Shogren, et al., 2015). Choice making also allows children to use important cognitive and communication skills. Children have to problem solve when deciding between the options. Children have to indicate their choice either through pointing, signing, eye gaze, or speaking. This shows children that their message is important and can affect change.
5 Steps to Using Choice-Making
1. Determine when/why behaviors are occurring
What is the trickiest part of your day? Is it meal times? Is it getting ready for bed? Make a list over the next few days. Write down the time of day behaviors are occurring and what activities the child is doing.
2. Decide on choice options
This will depend on what situations you are seeing behaviors occur. I created a table based on the work of Jolivette and colleagues (2002).
Here is a disclaimer about offering choices: Make sure the options are available. Do not offer the Dora fork, if it is dirty and in the dishwasher!
3. Ask child to make the choice
When beginning to use choice-making, it is best to start with the actual objects or pictures of the objects. For example:
"Do you want the skeleton shoes or the blue shoes?" Hold one in each hand.
“Do you want Mommy or Daddy to read you a story?”
I usually only offer two options in the beginning. In the beginning, I would suggest offering at least one highly preferred item. A choice between broccoli and Brussels sprouts may not be highly motivating if your child detests both.
4. Wait for the response
Patiently count to at least 5 before asking the child again.
5. Honor the choice
Immediately give the child the chosen option. This will show that the choice has power and they are in control of the decision.
Why you should start offering choices today:
The lack of opportunities for choice making can lead to learned helplessness and problem behaviors. Choice making is beneficial for all children, not just children with challenging behaviors.
What does the research say?
- Choice making was shown to reduce inappropriate behaviors and increase task-engagement for students with emotional and behavioral disorders.
Dunlap, G., DePerczel, M., Clarke, S., Wilson, D., Wright, S., White, R., & Gomez, A. (1994). Choice making to promote adaptive behavior for students with emotional and behavioral challenges, journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27, 505-518.
- In a meta analysis of 13 studies, researchers found that choice making was an effective intervention for reducing challenging behaviors.
Shogren, K. A., Fagella-Luby, M. N., Bae, S. J., Wehmeyer, M. L. (2015). The effect of choice-making as an intervention for problem behavior: A meta analysis. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 6(4), 228-237.
Green, K. B., Mays, N. M., Jolivette, L. (2011). Making choices: A proactive way to improve behaviors for young children with challenging behaviors. Beyond Behavior, 25-31.
Jolivette, K., Stichter, J., Sibilsky, S., Scott, T., & Ridgley, R. (2002). Naturally occurring opportunities for preschool children with or without disabilities to make choices. Education and Treatment of Children, 25, 396-414.
McCormick, K.M., Jolivetter, K., & Ridgley, R. Choice making as an intervention strategy in young children. Young Exceptional Children, 6(2), 3-10.