The importance of options 

“Kids today need more structure!”

We’ve all heard someone say this, whether in the grocery line, or at a family gathering in your own living room. And to a degree, yes, structure is good for kids. But there’s something else that helps them develop: the opportunity to make choices in their own lives. Making choices, no matter how basic, allows children to grow and be self-reliant.

You make a bunch of choices over the course of your day. What outfit should you wear? Where will you get lunch? What book will you read? It feels good to make those decisions. And in the same way, it feels good for Baby to make choices regarding the goings-on in their life, too.

Why exactly are options so important? 

Well for starters, they help Baby’s brain develop. Instead of drifting through the day following your instructions, Baby can now imagine different possibilities and run through them before making a decision. Basically, they get a chance to flex their mental muscles when they are presented with a choice.

The more Baby is given options, the more they start to understand what it is like to think for themself. Their self-esteem grows when they feel trusted to make decisions.

More than that, while it’s tempting to step in and stop them from making a bad choice, when Baby does make a choice that backfires – which is bound to happen – they have to deal with the consequences. If Baby chooses to play with the dog instead of going swimming, for example, they learn to live with the fact that even if they want to go swimming afterwards, they have already chosen not to swim.

Another thing giving Baby choices can lead to is some resistance to doing what you want them to do. This can be frustrating, but it’s actually a good thing. Resistance is a healthy sign that Baby is developing and separating from you to explore the world a little more on their own terms. Baby will test your limits, but it is certainly not for a lack of love. It’s more about their quest for individuality and independence. And if Baby doesn’t have a choice and feels trapped in something, they can always choose to throw a tantrum!

How do I present options to Baby?

At this age, Baby probably won’t respond well to complicated or open-ended options. Using “either/or” statements, or presenting two different objects, colors, or experiences can help keep their choices simple, and give you a little more control without taking away their ability to decide. If you make sure that the options are clear, they won’t have the chance to get overwhelmed by them. And you don’t have to give Baby the options of choosing something that you don’t want them playing with, doing, or eating!

What is an example of a choice I can present to Baby?

  • Baby, would you like to eat crackers or an apple with your peanut butter?
  • It’s almost time to start getting ready for bed, Baby, would you like to help mommy set up your bath or would you like mommy to come get you in 5 minutes when the bath is ready? 
  • Baby, watching a movie isn’t a choice right now. You can play with your dollhouse or daddy can help you set up some things for drawing. Which one of these do you want to do?

Presenting Baby with clear, desirable options will empower them in a number of ways, many of which will continue to help them out all the way into adulthood. Baby will thrive when given options to make their own choices about some of what happens over the course of their day!

  • Sue Grossman. “Offering Children Choices: Encouraging Autonomy and Choices While Minimizing Conflicts.” Early Childhood News. Excelligence Learning Corporation, 2008. Web.

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