Choices for Children


Parenting guru Amy McCreadie from Positive Parenting Solutions would tell you that if a child is talking back to you, you are not filling his “power basket” enough each day. Children need to feel appropriate control, independence and power. Whining and back-chat are best friends with nagging and reminding and they are all indictors that parents and their kids have fallen into a power struggle.

I was at a fabulous parenting presentation this week called Raising Boys. The presenter, Leigh Bartlett, gave some great advice about the language we use with our kids. In particular, the benefits of using “I statements”:

“I need you to clean your room” instead of “You need to clean your room” or worse “go clean your room”. Starting a sentence with “you” puts someone on the defensive and this is never a good way to start a conversation. A directive like “go clean your room” takes a more authoritarian approach and this is thought to lead to poor outcomes in children such as aggression, low self-esteem and poor relationships. Choice is an important part of authoritative parenting which tends to lead to better emotional development, enriched relationships, confidence and happier mood.

The next advice about language from Leigh was framing our requests positively not negatively:

“Can you please take the ball outside?” rather than “don’t play with the ball inside.”

“Feet on floors please” rather than “get off the table.”

“Please talk to your sister nicely” rather than “don’t talk to your sister like that.”

One of the audience members suggested that this leaves room for the child to say no. She explained that a recent professional development workshop she attended had advised teachers to take the question out of the equation and state simply “go outside with the ball” so the child doesn’t have the choice to say no to the question “can you go outside with the ball?”

I don’t agree with this for two reasons. Firstly, removing the choice from children doesn’t help to fill that important power basket! Secondly, I would simply reply to their no with “I see you’ve chosen to lose the privilege to use your ball” and take the ball from them.

The important aspects of this parenting tool are as follows:

“Can you please take the ball outside?” It is important to role model the use of manners. Why should your children use manners if you don’t?

You may say at this point “I don’t want to use my manners when it’s the tenth time I’ve asked.” If you are reminding your child to take the ball out of the house for the gazillionth time…STOP. Tell them “I’ve noticed you seem to be using your ball inside lately. Do you think it is fair if I take it off you for an hour next time?” Then the next time it happens, don’t remind or request, simply say “I see you chose to lose the privilege to use your ball.” It is important to include the words chose and privilege. This reminds them that it is their choice because you had set up the consequence ahead of time and that the use of their ball is something you are providing as a privilege, not a given right!

Then follow-through. If they say “ok ok, I’m going out now” TAKE THE BALL ANYWAY and say “great idea, the fresh air will be good for you. The ball will be available in one hour.”

Don’t fall into a power struggle at this point. Your child may say “Ohhhhh but muuuuuuum!” Avoid responding with “you know the rules.” They do know the rules so they don’t need to be reminded. Reminding only lets them know that they don’t have to remember next time because you will remind them! Avoid saying “you always do this. Why can’t you just listen? You’re not getting the ball back so get out!”

Ignore all attempts to continue the conversation, not even a “you’ll get it back in an hour, can’t you just do something else until then? It’s only an hour of your life!” Logic has been misplaced from the brain of your precious child by this point in the struggle and they’ll respond with “I neeeeed it noooooow though. I won’t do it again.” Don’t fall for puppy dog eyes  here; remember you are shaping them into well-rounded and respectful adults so not having their ball for one hour is a positive step in this direction.


The most important thing? Make consequences relatable. Taking their most precious possession such as the PlayStation cannot be a cover-all for all bad behaviour. If they are bouncing the ball in the house don’t threaten to take their PlayStation for a week because this won’t make sense to them. If they haven’t cleaned up their room they miss out on going to netball training because they can’t leave the house until it’s clean. If they pee in the kitchen they clean it up…etc etc. See the link below for an explanation about consequences.

Great YouTube video explaining The 5 R’s: Respectful, Related, Reasonable, Revealed and Repeated consequences by Positive Parenting Solutions.

I also wrote a Social Story called Choices that you can access for free on Smashwords that is helpful for introducing the concept of having a choice in behaviour when angry, sad or worried.

Keep filling those baskets,


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