Choices Improve Behavior

Choices are a critical component of fostering responsibility and influencing behavior. The reason is that choice brings ownership; it fosters a sense of independence and also empowers. Offering options engages a youngster in cooperation and is much more effective than giving commands. 

The choices can be limited, but the sooner a young person starts to make choices, to exercise decision making, the more responsible the youngster becomes. Of course, the choices must be ones that satisfy both parties. Suppose a youngster is asked to suggest a chore he will do. If the chore the youngster offers is not satisfactory, then the parent asks, “What else?” The same two words “What else?” “What else?” are repeated until both parties agree. Offering options, rather than imposing the chores, gives the ownership to the youngster.

Later, if the youngster does not fulfill the chosen chore, rather than imposing a consequence, the consequence is elicited from the youngster. The two friendly words “What else?” are again used until there is agreement.

Another approach regarding chores is for the parent to add choices. For example, if a youngster has two chores to perform and is not doing them, add three more so that five choices are available; the youngster then chooses two from the five. Empowering by adding to is a positive approach and is much more effective than threatening to remove a privilege for noncompliance, which is a negative approach.

Remember, any type of behavior change is a product of a decision, and decisions are possible only when there are choices. Therefore, offering choices paves the way to change behavior. Remember that young people exercise choice without parents’ permission. A powerful choice is to do nothing. Adults call this defiance. The most effective way to avoid this is for the adult to offer choices.

We have been brought up to believe that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. However, powerlessness also corrupts. When people feel a lack of power, the mission becomes one of gaining it. Even children have a natural desire to feel empowered. Offering options is an easy way to accomplish this. As long as a young person has a choice, the youngster does not lose—and not losing is more important than winning.