Family · Parenting

Too Much Choice?

CluelessStill11As parents, we’ve always tried to maintain what we felt was a good balance of gentle guidance and egalitarianism in the household. Sausage is a bright child and we’ve tried to allow her the freedom to make choices for herself, in the hope that this would both encourage her to learn how to make good decisions, as well as make her feel respected, and like her voice is heard as an equal member of the family. In a lot of ways, it’s worked really well and she can be assertive when she needs to be, without the need for foot-stamping and demanding behaviour, which is something she has never done.

However, I’m starting to wonder if, by giving her too much choice, we’re overwhelming her and putting too much pressure on her?

We’re not the sort of household which is very regimental; dinner is ready when it’s ready and more often than not we wait until after the school run to even work out what we’re having, which usually means a quick trip to the shops of an afternoon. Most days, I’ll ask Sausage what she wants for dinner, applying a little of the gentle guidance mentioned above when she requests things like Supanoodles or Coco Pops, but largely we work together to work out what our family dinner will be.

We do it with other things, too; on our walk to school in the mornings, there are two routes we can take and most days I’ll ask if she has a preference over which way we walk. I let her choose her own clothes when she’s not in uniform and she has freedom over what books she reads (although Husband and I both took a sharp intake of breath when she eyed a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover last week!), TV she watches and what games she plays.

Just lately though, I’ve been noticing a pretty dispassionate response to my questions. She’ll often answer “surprise me”, which I think is a way of removing the pressure on her to make a decision, and just this morning, I asked what she wanted on her toast and she answered “I don’t know, Mummy. You decide”. Is she shying away from making decisions because she’s feeling the weight of expectation on herself too heavily?

Husband came from a household where dinner was on the table at roughly the same time every night, everyone ate the same thing and there was no discussion about what it would be, by and large, it was simply prepared and served by his Mum. My upbringing wasn’t quite as regimented, but there certainly wasn’t anywhere near as much autonomy Sausage is afforded and, while I always thought this was a good thing, I’m unsure now.

Parenting means doing things in the way that you think is right for both yourself and your kids, but sometimes the way you do things can end up being the exact OPPOSITE of what your kids need and I’m really keen to identify issues like this and change them before they become too much of a problem. Husband has been telling me for months that we should just give Sausage her meals rather than asking her what she wants all the time, because of the stress she’s started to show and I’m starting to think I should have listened to him long ago.

Are we, in giving her so much choice, ladling too much pressure on her? Do you give your kids a say in every day decisions or do you make the majority of their choices for them? Do your kids ever show signs of being overwhelmed by too many options? Leave me a comment below.


18 thoughts on “Too Much Choice?

  1. We go for choice! I feel like it is a child’s right to have autonomy over as much as they want! It isn’t easier, but I think it is right!
    Mind you, every kid is different and they will quickly let parent’s know if they want more guidance, eh? And we know our kids best 🙂

  2. N’s only 3 so he doesn’t get that many choices yet…bedtime story, if he pushes it he can grab different clothes, and then obviously what he plays with, but mostly it’s just fact, and that’s what he gets. Especially with dinner (he does get a choice of what goes in his sandwich and snacks) mainly because I have about 30 minutes from getting in to having it on the table, so it would take that amount of time for him to choose.

    I think it’s a case of trying to work out what level of choice they want. Unfortunately that’s always going to change so it’s hard to know.

  3. Yes, too much choice is not helpful for either the child or the parent. I have friends who take two hours to leave the house because firstly it’s “Do you want to go to the park or the woods?”, followed by “Which shoes do you want to wear?” which is swiftly followed by “Well we don’t wear our ballet shoes to the woods do we, they’ll get all muddy” and crying, and negotiations akin to the Treaty of Versailles, then compromise, “Yes you can wear your ballet shoes in the car but then put your wellies on” and then “Which coat do you want to wear?”… etc etc. And then, after all the swithering and arguing and reasoning, everyone is frustrated and grumpy, and there’s not enough time left to do all the exciting things in the woods or the park. It would have been much simpler for the grown-ups to say “We’re all going to the woods, put your wellies on, last one in the car is a stinky stinker” (or words to that effect). There is plenty of time to teach children how to make choices for themselves; there is no need to put the responsibility of what the whole family is having for dinner on the head of an 8 year old, but give them the choice of what they would like for pudding instead.

  4. Yes generally mine all get choice within reason (or within parameters) as I think kids need boundaries or a nice little cocoon to allow them to feel supported and not overwhelmed but then also they have to make choices to learn about how to make them and dealing with consequences. Isn’t it amazing that our kids start to teach us stuff Jayne? Why don’t you trial a day with less chocie and then ask sausgae how it felt?

    Mich x

  5. This is a toughie, Jayne – I have always given my kids choice too, and I think it really helps them to learn independence and to give them control too…something which they are always fighting for. I do take control myself with some things though I guess, like the dinner, as I am such a mad planner, I have to know what we are having a week in advance, so they don’t tend to decide on that front. I think you know sausage best, and what works for her, and if you feel that there is perhaps too much choice for her now, rather than her just being tired after school and not bothered, then perhaps offer a choice of three different meals? So she still has some autonomy, but doesn’t potentially feel overwhelmed by the potential breadth of choice? Just a thought…

  6. That is really interesting, you do make me think! I hate making decisions about what is for tea, and lots of other things as an adult, so I think I can see where she is coming from. I find mine are just too busy playing, stopping to make a decision is a pain. So now I tend to save offering choices when I can foresee a battle, but mine are older and the battles have changed ha ha!

    1. It’s funny, for the past week or so I’ve been making the decisions about dinner without asking Sausage because Husband is on a health-kick and we’ve been eating well-balanced, protein rich dinners for his sake. Just a couple of days ago Sausage, who NEVER usually complains about things, told me that she was sick of having meat and veg style dinners and wanted something different.

      I thinks the definition of ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’, isn’t it?!

  7. When it comes to the evening meal I make the decisions as I plan it all when I do the weekly shop, it means we stick within a budget and I can make sure we’re not living on pizza and chips every night, which is what would happen if I expected my son to choose! He gets to make plenty of choices throughout the day but we set out the options so he’s not overwhelmed. If you take a kid into a toy shop and ask them to pick out one thing then often the resulting stress will lead to a tantrum and they get dragged out of the store with nothing because their parents think they are misbehaving, when in reality most children just haven’t developed the ability to cope with that much choice yet. I still find it hard enough to decide what to eat if I’m in a restaurant with a big menu, so I think that allowing choice but limiting options is the way to go, and when they don’t want to choose there is nothing wrong with taking the pressure off altogether and deciding for them. It’s great that everyone in the family is an equal member of the team, but sometimes teams need a leader to take charge and that’s a really stressful position for a child to be in, even if the decisions seem like little ones to us adults, kids don’t always want to feel like they are responsible for what everyone is going to eat/do x

    1. I’m the same in restaurants and if I’m being totally honest, I think I might subconsciously be putting the choice on Sausage so that I don’t have to make it myself.

  8. I love the way you include Sausage in making decisions – I have always done similar with mine except I usually give them a choice between two or three things rather than a wider choice x x x

  9. I often wonder this too, I do let my children choose things sometimes like you do, what to eat and which way to walk, although sometimes they choose different things and then that causes arguments to it’s easier not to! Definitely with toys they get overwhelmed, my son is much better when I give him an activity to do or suggest one thing to play with than if I tell him to go and choose something to play with from the toy cupboard.

    1. Sausage has FAR too many toys and electronic devices and often claims boredom when surrounded by hundreds of pounds worth of stuff. I agree that they can get overwhelmed by choice – it’s almost like they don’t want to miss out on playing with anything so they end up playing with nothing at all!

  10. My two definitely get choices within reason – they can’t wear shorts in the snow or eat cereal the entire time or that kind of thing, but I do say things like “what do you fancy for dinner a) b) or c) then once we have mutually agreed we usually eat together. Can’t guarantee what time though! 😀

    1. I think that’s a really good point – offering choice but within parameters. That way she gets some freedom and input without too much pressure. Thanks for commenting.

  11. I’m not sure about this. I think choice is a good thing, it teaches them to be responsible and to have a say, but I do often hear Ruby saying the same sort of thing as Sausage – I don’t know, you choose etc. I’d thought she was just being lazy!

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