The Big Picture

Teaching Children to Make Good Choices by Putting Them in the Driver’s Seat


September 2021

Author’s noteHi, I'm Amy Selley and this is the third in a series of 4 blog posts I will publish over the next 6 months, which are our first 6 months as owners of The Little Gym. These posts will draw from my 20+ years as a preschool teacher (and a mom!), with the intention of dropping in some nuggets of knowledge on how parents can best help their child. I will also draw direct correlations to what we are doing at my new home at The Little Gym at Cherry Hill, in Danvers, MA.

Do you feel like you’re in control of your life? While adults may feel like they’re in control of their lives, children don’t always feel that way. The need to feel in control doesn’t go away as children get older and become adults. Our brains, in fact, are hard-wired to want to feel like we’re in control of our lives.

When children feel in control, they become focused, motivated, and goal-oriented. They also feel present-centered, and optimistic. Feeling out of control, however, creates anxiety in children and makes them feel overwhelmed and depressed.

But creating a sense of control in children is a challenge. One way to do that is by helping them learn to make good choices. That isn't easy ordinarily. In a COVID-19 driven world, that can be even harder. Below are five tips on teaching children how to make good choices.

1. Give children simple choices  

Try to build simple choices into events. That’s not always easy to do as a parent. But it’s something to strive for always. If you’re going out for a meal, for example, give them a simple choice of where to sit. Do they want to sit near the door or the window? Giving children simple choices like that shows them you want them to feel in control of their lives.

2. Let children decide on the order 

One way to do this is by allowing children to choose a schedule for their events. Give them slips of paper, for example, with things they need to do that day. Then, have them put them in the order they want to do them. That gives them the power to organize their lives for at least a day. It also lets them control the order of preferred and non-preferred activities.

3. Provide access to coping mechanisms

Doing something hard or going somewhere for the first time can create stress for a child. Faced with that situation, try asking the child what would make it easier to cope with or manage. If they can't give you any ideas, try making suggestions like: Do you want headphones or music on a trip? Give them access to a special interest and/or take regular breaks, like engaging in an activity or taking quiet times.

4. Be your child’s consultant

Be your child’s consultant, not his boss. Homework, for example, is an excellent activity to practice this idea on. Often, it’s a battle to get children to do homework. Find ways to eliminate that. Also, try not to micromanage the child when it comes to the activity. Instead, when you get some push back, say things like, "I'm willing to be your homework consultant."

5. Give choices where children really have a choice

Giving choices you can't agree with only makes things worse. So, don't ask children if they want to eat lunch now or take a nap. Children don’t really have a choice here. Suppose the child asks to play instead. What do you do then? Try choices like: Which book do you want to read? Do you want a blanket when you take a nap? Do you want crayons or paint today?

These are just a few things you can do to teach your children how to make choices. You can find others on the Internet or ask our team. Also, prepare yourself to give choices. That may mean you need to make some changes to your schedule. The goal is to build influence with a child, not control over them. That puts them in the driver’s seat.  

At The Little Gym, we teach children to make good choices. It helps them feel empowered and prepared for making more meaningful choices as they grow. Our activities, lessons, and events can make children feel independent and worthwhile. children can also benefit from interacting with others while learning new skills or creating new social networks through The Little Gym!



See our other blog posts!