Choices and Stress

Offering choices significantly reduces stress and is remarkably more effective than attempting to force change. If a parent coerces or forces a decision upon a child that the youngster does not like—and if the child does not respond as the parent desires—the youngster is making a choice. Call it defiance, but nevertheless a choice has been made. Conversely, if the youngster does comply, a choice also has been made. So, since the child has choices anyway, providing options diminishes stress and is more effective than not offering them.

The most effective number of choices to offer is three. With some young people, offering just two choices seems limiting and restrictive. Giving three options eliminates all perceptions of coercion and encourages greater ownership in the choice. Offering three choices is especially useful with young people categorized as “passive aggressive” or more commonly referred to today as “oppositional defiant.” This type of youngster manipulates by being resistant. It is a way of staying in control.

By giving three options, more control is offered and the oppositional attitude is reduced. For example: “Would you rather clean up your room before dinner, after dinner, or tomorrow morning before you play?”

The choices need not be limited to the ones offered by the adult. Offering three does not preclude the youngster from volunteering one, as in: “Would you rather clean up before dinner, after dinner, or when would you suggest?”