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Positive Language Strategies: The Power of Offering Choices

Do you find yourself repeatedly asking your child to do the same thing over and over again? When children are immersed in play, they are often reluctant to pause. This is especially true for children who have found comfort in the countless hours of “home play” they've experienced throughout the past year. Whether you’re encouraging your child to put away toys or prepare for the day ahead, you’re likely to encounter some power struggles along the way. If your child is unable or unwilling to complete a specific task, such as cleaning up or getting dressed, offering two choices is a valuable strategy.

Here’s where to start:

Try leading with prompts that challenge your child to complete a task independently.

“Please put on your outdoor clothes and meet me at the door.”

If the request is met with resistance:

Offer two choices that get the job done. 

“It’s time to get dressed and go outside. You can wear your sandals or your sneakers. Which pair do you choose?”

Choices help children shift gears and give them a sense of control when they’re feeling rushed or frustrated. More than two choices can feel confusing or overwhelming to young children, so be sure to offer just two!

If your child refuses both options:

You may need to follow-up with, “If it’s hard for you to make a choice, I can choose for you.” When children become familiar with this approach, they discover it’s in their best interest to select one of the two choices presented to them. 

Your child may also need some physical assistance. If your child is refusing to put on the shoes that have been selected, describe the physical assistance you’re about to offer before touching his or her body. Try to explain your next steps without judgement. Tone is everything here. “It’s taking a long time to get ready today. You can put on your sneakers now or I can help by putting them on for you.”

Many parents are hesitant to offer choices during challenging moments. You may wonder, “Am I letting my children get away with too much? Shouldn’t they simply do as I ask?” It’s developmentally appropriate for children to assert themselves and test limits as they navigate the world around them. Experimenting with boundaries helps children understand what’s expected of them and identify consequences that correspond with specific behaviors. Offering choices is one way to meet children where they are developmentally. It’s important to provide thoughtful, appropriate choices and consistently hold your child accountable. 

Here are some common scenarios + appropriate choices to offer your children:  

Avoiding cleanup time: “You can be in charge of cleaning up wooden animals or blocks. Which do you choose?” 

Stalling the bedtime routine: “Would you like to brush your teeth before or after your bath?”

Resisting vegetables: “I could use your help preparing dinner. Should we roast sweet potatoes or carrots tonight?”

Requesting to be physically carried: “You can ride your scooter or use your walking feet to get to the playground this afternoon.”

For additional language support, check out our Guide to Positive Language Strategies. Whether you’re hoping to tackle challenging moments or enhance everyday conversations, you’ll find practical strategies to benefit the entire family.

About the Author
Lauren Vien taught in private Manhattan preschools for over a decade before joining the Rose & Rex team as Education Director. With a masters in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from NYU, Lauren is deeply passionate about positive language and developmental play. She lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and two young children, Henry and Violet. Family pastimes include building with couch cushions, preparing plant-based meals, and scooting to neighborhood playgrounds.
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