Make a Choice

This may be the oldest trick in the book, but...

By Momentous Institute | Mar 20, 2017
Make A Choice

This may be the oldest trick in the book, but it’s a good one that we should keep front of mind when working with children of all ages. Give them a choice!

Children benefit from a sense of control. While we can’t have everything be a free-for-all, there are quite a few places where they can make choices. Sometimes we can ask simple things like, “Do you want to use a pen or a pencil?” or “Do you want to sit in this chair or that chair?” The point is to provide two options that are equally acceptable.

Here’s why it works:

Ultimately, you are in charge of the situation, because you’re the one providing the two choices. But they feel like they’re in charge because they get to choose. And when they choose, they feel better about what they’ve chosen than when it’s been assigned to them. If a toddler doesn’t want to hold hands crossing the street, you can say, “Do you want to hold my right hand or my left hand?” The toddler then feels happy that she was able to choose, and you get the child to hold your hand.

We can use this same strategy for more complex items. Here are few examples from leaders of our Huddle Up group who work with teenagers:

We were supposed to be moving on to a new activity, but two kids in the group were being really silly and dancing and laughing. The other kids in the group were just standing there watching. I almost stopped the two boys to redirect them, but then I paused. I said, “Well – this is certainly entertaining. What does everyone think? Should we keep watching this, or do you want to move on to the next activity?” Then another kid in the group called out, “Hey guys, can you please be quiet?” Sure enough, they stopped and we were able to move on. This strategy worked because I didn’t try to silence them, and I didn’t shame them for having fun at a time when they needed to focus. I simply gave the group a choice – watch them, or continue on with our activity. And they chose to move on. That way, when we were ready to start the next activity, they were on board. After all, they chose it!

We went on a field trip to the bowling alley. When we were ready to go, the kids were lining up at the vending machine to buy snacks. I had to pull them away, because we had to get back so their parents could pick them up. They were upset because they were hungry and really wanted to buy snacks, but pickup time is not something we can negotiate on. We needed to be there when their parents arrived. I told them, “We have to go now, and we’ll talk about this when we get back.” So we circled up quickly when we were back, and I said, “I noticed something when it was time to go. I noticed that a lot of you wanted to buy snacks from the vending machine and we didn’t have time. It seems like there are two things that are equally important. We have to make it back in time for your parents to pick you up. And we definitely want you to be able to get a snack. Today those two things collided. What do you think we can do about this next time?” One kid suggested that they get their snacks at the beginning of the outing. Perfect! There was no power struggle, no sense of control over them, and no punishment or consequences. Providing them the opportunity to problem solve and choose their own solution gave them a sense of ownership over the result. Sure enough, we didn’t have that problem again.

We can give students choices in when they take their free time, what activity they’ll do next, whether they’ll do Option A before or after Option B, and all sorts of other opportunities. The more we can let them feel that their voice is heard, the better. We can even mix it up by asking them to stand in a certain part of the room to cast their vote, or write their choice on a notecard which we tally up, or any other fun way we think of on the spot. We believe in firm boundaries and limits, and a lot of flexibility and choice within those boundaries.