Limited versus Unlimited Choices

Offering youngsters choices is a key part of Parenting Without Stress. The choices parents offer can be either “limited” or “unlimited.”

Limited choices allow the child to select from a restricted number of options offered by the parent, whereas in unlimited choices, the child is encouraged to come up with an option of his or her own. Generally, the younger the child, the more limited the choices. For example, “Do you want cereal or an egg for breakfast?” would be a limited choice, while “What do you want for breakfast?” would be unlimited and more appropriate as children mature. However, if the response to an unlimited question is not practical, the choices can again be limited.

In situations when only a few options are acceptable to you, stick to offering limited choices. This will ensure greater success in reducing stress and power struggles. When you are prepared to only accept certain options, offering unlimited choices can result in disagreement, anger, and even resentment if the child continues to come up with alternatives that are not acceptable to you.

On the other hand, expanding the number of choices increases cooperation. Suppose, for example, a child has household chores. By offering options at the outset, rather than dictating the chores, parents give ownership to the youngster. If the child does not fulfill the selected chores, rather than impose a consequence, simply add more choices. If a youngster has two chores to perform and is not doing them, add three more, so that five choices are available. The child then chooses two from the five. Adding choices is a positive approach. It saves parents grief and is much more effective than a negative approach, such as threatening to revoke privileges.