“Would you like to do math and then reading, or reading and then math?”
“Would you like to put on your shoes first or your jacket first?”
“Would you rather have yogurt or applesauce for snack?”
This is the best way to offer your child choices, right?
You choose two things that you’re totally okay with and offer it to them to help them feel powerful and in control.
But controlled choices aren’t actually the magical solution that they’re often sold as.
So today I’m going to share 3 reasons that controlled choices are actually the worst (and what you can do instead).
3 Reasons “Controlled Choices” are Actually the Worst
Offering “controlled choices” is one of the most common parenting tips ever, and on the surface it totally makes sense.
Kids’ lives are largely controlled by the adults around them, and especially our Autistic children often struggle with that lack of control.
Obviously giving our kids more power and choice in their life is going to help with that!
But the reality is that most of our kids easily see through controlled choices and they can even make power struggles WORSE than they were to start.
So let’s dive into the 3 specific reasons that controlled choices are actually the worst, and what we can do instead!
#1 Controlled Choices Aren’t Really Choices
While the entire premise of controlled choices is to offer choices to your child, they aren’t actually choices at all.
A choice implies free will and autonomy, and controlled choices don’t include either of those.
So imagine for a second, someone offers you these choices: give me all of your money, or I’ll take all of your money. Your choice!
Uhhhh that’s not a choice at all, and either way, you’re stealing my money, right?
Instead of offering “controlled choices” to our kid in order to give them more perceived choice or power, why not give them actual choices?
- “I wonder how you want to get dressed today.”
- “It’s snack time. I wonder what we should have.”
- “I’m not sure what you want to play this afternoon.”
#2 Controlled Choices Don’t Solve Behaviors
This is a big one, friend.
See most people offer controlled choices in order to solve behavior struggles.
Most of the time this has to do with refusal.
But offering controlled choices doesn’t actually help solve behavior struggles like refusing to do what you ask.
Because the truth is that if your child is refusing to do their homework, giving them a choice about what order to do their homework in won’t make a difference.
Instead, you need to find out why your child is refusing to do homework and work together to solve that problem.
You can read more about finding the reason for behavior in this blog post.
#3 Controlled Choices are Manipulative AF
Okay, I’m just going to be super honest with this one.
Controlled choices are manipulative AF.
See, when we offer a controlled choice, our entire intent is to get our kid to do something that we want them to do in a way that we want them to do it.
But we also want them to think that they’re deciding to do it that way and in control of the situation.
Isn’t that kind of the definition of manipulation?
As a whole, I don’t love the idea of relying on manipulation to parent our kids.
I’d much rather treat them as humans, which means treating them with the same respect that I’d expect from others.
So instead of manipulative controlled choices, focus on being honest about what needs to happen.
Instead of: “do you want to do math first or reading first?”:
“I know that math isn’t your favorite, but I see that we have this homework that needs to get done. I wonder how we could make it easier to finish the math homework.”
Instead of “do you want an apple or crackers?”:
“I totally hear that you want oreos for snack, but I don’t actually have oreos in the pantry. I wonder what other yummy treat we might find.”
Instead of: “do you want to put on your red shirt or blue shirt?”
“I get that you don’t feel like getting dressed today, but we can’t go outside naked. It’s important that we respect other people’s consent, and they didn’t consent to seeing our naked bodies.”
What to Do Instead of Controlled Choices
So instead of relying on controlled choices (which totally don’t work anyway), you can start to get rid of the power struggles in a few ways.
First, start offering real choices.
If we want our kids to believe that they have more power and autonomy, we have to give them real power and autonomy.
Give your child the opportunity to make their own choices in an environment that’s safe.
That way they’re making their mistakes and learning their lessons now.
Because, trust me, the real world totally doesn’t give us controlled choices!
Next, you need to figure out why your child is refusing in the first place.
- Is the task too difficult for them?
- Are they just burnt out or exhausted?
- Are they getting super distracted?
- Is the task a sensory nightmare?
Without addressing these very real reasons to refuse something, nothing will really change your child’s refusal.
Finally, start building a habit of explaining your real-life reasons for boundaries or restrictions on choices.
This is important because we want our kids to see that we aren’t just some ridiculous dictator that demands that they do whatever we say for no reason.
(Also, if there isn’t a legitimate reason for a boundary or restriction you’re setting… Re-evaluate if you should actually set that boundary in the first place!)
But beyond that, it is our job as parents to raise our children to become adults that are as independent as possible (whatever that looks like for them).
Part of that job includes helping them see our logical, adult reasoning that guides us in making decisions.
Getting into the habit of discussing these reasons helps our child start to understand them and recognize them when they make decisions on their own.
Now you might be left thinking “okay, this sounds great, but HOW do I actually get my child to understand that their choice isn’t always possible? How do I get them to actually accept the boundaries we have in place without a TOTAL meltdown? And holy moly how do I deal with the constant negotiations if I have a little lawyer who finds every freaking loophole?”
I teach all about how to set realistic boundaries AND handle behaviors without resorting to manipulation or ABA tactics in my Embracing Autism Accelerator Program.
Plus, when you apply for the Accelerator, you get access to an exclusive private training: 3 Steps to Become the Parent-Advocate Your Child Needs.
Click here to apply and get your invite to the private training!
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