Offering Choices

December 11, 2013 | | Bites for Big Kids, Food for Tot | No Comments

I recently read a fabulous parenting article by Barbara Meltz, a blogger for the Boston Globe. The article focuses on the “magic” discipline strategies that preschool teachers use on children and why these methods are so successful. The author makes many excellent points in the article, which is geared towards parenting preschoolers. Personally, I can use all the help I can get when it comes to managing behavior and diffusing difficult situations before they begin.   

For any who are interested in the article, I’m including a link to it here:

After reading the article (and forwarding it to my husband and every other mom I know…) I started experimenting with some of the methods outlined by the author. One of my favorites, and also the one that I think ties in best with feeding behaviors, is the concept of offering choices. The idea behind offering choices is that preschoolers find choices to be empowering. Rather than saying, “no, you can’t have this or that,” you provide your child with acceptable choices and allow them the ‘power’ of making the decision.

Ms. Meltz is careful to say that in offering choices to your child you have to be careful not to cross over into the world of negotiating. To put it simply, never give a 3- or 4-year old that much power! Power can generate anxiety in children who prefer to have clear limits established. The other key when offering choices is to provide 2 or 3 options max.

We started offering choices in our household when Aidan was 2, and now that he’s about to turn 3, we continue doing it but on at a more advanced stage. When he was 2, I implemented an “offering choices” set-up to meal times. Even at 2, he clearly had an opinion on ALL TOPICS under the sun and I figured I would see if empowering him at meals would work in my favor. It worked which was amazing! Like anything, it wasn’t fool proof and there were times when it backfired, but in the year that we’ve been offering choices, I’d say that most often it’s been successful. What we’ve learned is to stick to the rules outlined by Ms. Meltz. #1.Provide 2 or 3 choices tops and, #2. Never negotiate.

I would add two more rules when it comes to choices at meals. The first is to offer choices in only 1 or 2 meal categories to avoid making it overwhelming. For instance, if you are allowing your child to choose which type of sandwich and which type of side he/she would like, don’t offer choice when it comes to beverage. The second added rule is to make it clear that choices occur BEFORE the meal is made. Once the choice is voiced and the meal is prepared, that is what they are getting. Period. Offering choices should not turn you into a short-order cook. As the parent, remember that it’s important to keep control of the situation. Also, you don’t have to do this at every meal. Pick and choose a few meals a week where you have the time to do it. Or focus on a particular meal that may be more difficult for your child. 

Dinner continues to be the most challenging meal at our house. Aidan remains resistant to trying many foods but by offering choices at dinners a few times per week, it’s made this time less stressful. Here’s an example of my strategy:  Aidan is offered 2 choices for dinner – fish sticks or meat balls (he picked meat balls). Then he’s offered 2 choices for vegetables – peas or green beans. Since vegetables are a tough sell these days, he inevitably attempts to negotiate on this one. Last night he asked for crackers instead. I told him crackers weren’t 1 of the 2 choices and asked again if he wanted peas or green beans. After a few go-rounds, he picked green beans. He also had apple slices on his plate and milk to drink (no choices with these). I put his dinner together and we sat down to eat. He ate his meatballs and the apples but was still not into the green beans – surprise, surprise. When he refused a no-thank-you bite of his green beans, he was reminded that it was his choice to take the bite or not, however there would be no Curious George video after dinner if he chose to refuse the no-thank-you bite. Honestly, sometimes he chooses no video (are green beans really that bad?!?) but most often he takes the bite because watching Curious George is just too tempting to pass up!

If it sounds reasonable to you, try the choices strategy at a few meals and see if it gets you anywhere with your preschooler. For more help, read the article by Barbara Meltz (link above) and Ashley’s article, The No Thank You Bite. Good luck!

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