It may seem counterintuitive, but giving children the opportunity to make more choices for themselves can actually give you more parental control.

Whether your children are toddlers or teenagers, giving them choices can be a powerful tool for enlisting their cooperation and increasing compliance while also teaching valuable life skills. When children get to make their own choices, they gain a sense of control, self-discipline and confidence in their ability to make good decisions.

Parents often resist letting children choose for themselves, thinking they’ll lose control by giving more to their children. But if parents are the ones setting forth the options, parents are the ones who hold the power.

Begin by letting younger children choose from among two good choices, where there is no right and no wrong. As they learn and their confidence grows, you can expand the options to offer three or four choices with more variable outcomes and consequences.

A good example is a toddler who wants to dress himself in the morning. If you can’t stand the combination of polka dots and plaid he might choose, let him choose instead from among two outfits of your choice.

For a child who has homework to do, you might let her choose whether to do it at her desk or at the kitchen table. Or you can give a child with chores a choice of which one they would like to do.

If your child resists choosing from among the options you present, you can let him know you will step in and make the choice for him. Then be sure to follow through.

Obviously for older children the choices become more sophisticated. An example would be a teen who has been asked to the prom by someone she’s not interested in dating. You may offer her the option to go with the young man, go with him along with a larger group of friends or decline his invitation altogether and stay home.

As you offer children choices, it’s important to distinguish between those you can live with versus those you like. As your children grow, it will be important for them to have the freedom to make mistakes and experience the consequences while still in your care and the safety of your home.

The more appropriate control you give, the greater the chance your children will feel comfortable asking your opinion. If you’re a heavy-handed, controlling parent, your children are less likely to come to you, and you’ll miss out on valuable teaching opportunities.

By giving children choices you’ll be doing them and yourself a tremendous favor. You will have more cooperation from them, and they will learn to trust themselves in making decisions — in everyday situations as well as those that carry lifelong implications.

As published in the February 2006 Edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.