Limited Choices Lead to Cooperation

Children want their opinions known! Here’s a Montessori parenting tip to make things go a little smoother at home, especially when your children are still very young. This concept aligns with the Montessori philosophy, in that it emphasizes independent choice while still adhering to logical boundaries. This is something we manage in the classroom all the time! When 20 children (and their opinions) come together, we know that limited choices lead to cooperation.

This concept works at home and at school: by helping our children make positive choices within boundaries, we allow them a sense of control over their environment. Over time, this leads to cooperation, but it takes practice.

Learning to Reason

Until the age of five, children are still learning how to reason. Your rationale for why they need to choose X over Y doesn’t always make sense to them, because they are still learning to weigh the options and come to a rationale conclusion.  If Y is available, why can’t they have it? If shorts and a bathing suit are still in their closet in December, why can’t they wear them?! If they see it, they want it. Period. Cue tears and a tantrum when Mommy or Daddy says “no.”

Too many choices can make for frustration and conflict, when a younger child thinks he can have it all, but then learns he can not. When you limit the number of choices you offer, you give your child a sense of control and allow him to make decisions within the boundaries you choose. This is especially helpful when your child is learning to cooperate and makes it much easier to do things that create routines. 

montessori parenting tips

This or That? instead of Yes or No?

Something we have learned from many years of working with young children: never ask a yes/no question, if you’re not prepared for the answer to be NO!

“Should we go to the library?” NO! 

“Can you put on your shoes?” NO! 

“Do you want to get in your carseat?” NO!

If your child doesn’t want to put on his shoes before leaving the house, consider how many choices he has in the process and think about how you can create more opportunities for him to choose, while still sticking to the fact that putting on shoes is not a choice. Make it clear that some things are non-negotiable (ie. putting on his shoes and leaving the house) and other things are negotiable (ie. which shoes he wears and where he chooses to put them on).

“We’re going to the library, time to put on shoes!” (non-negotiable)

“Do you want your brown shoes or your blue shoes?” (negotiable)

“Where do you want to sit to put on your shoes? Over here (on the bottom step) or over there (on a stool or bench)?” (negotiable)

“Let’s go to the car!” (non-negotiable)

If something is non-negotiable, don’t give your child the opportunity to express his opinion on whether or not it happens, but give him lots of opportunity to control other aspects of the event:

“Do you want to take the blue bag or the red bag?” The blue bag!

“Should we get 3 books or 5 books?” Five books!

“Should we walk slow like turtles to the front door or tiptoe like mice?” Mice!

montessori parenting tips

What to Avoid

Be careful to avoid these common mistakes when it comes to offering choices. They can lead to frustration for both parent and child and are often the cause of stress, tears, and tantrums.

Avoid giving too many choices:

  • “Do you want the blue shoes?” NO
  • “How about the red shoes? Flip flops? Do you want your flip flops?” NO shoes!
  • “What about your sandals? Let’s put your sandals on!” No shoes!
  • Boots?” No!
  • “Well, what do you want to wear? We have to leave!” (Child runs around not putting on any shoes.)

Avoid using good / bad choices in an attempt to manipulate the outcome:

  • “You can put on your shoes or you can stay home and miss the library!” Miss the library!
  • “If you don’t put your shoes on, your feet are going to get cold.” I like cold feet.

Avoid going back on your choices:

  • “Blue bag or red bag?” Blue bag!
  • “Actually, no let’s take the red bag, it’s bigger.” Waaaahhh!

It’s okay, parents! We’ve all been there!

It takes some practice, but choices can be fun! Always make sure that you’re okay with both choices, limit the number of choices you offer, make sure you’re okay with the outcome before offering options, and then follow through with what your child decides. 

By giving him a little control over his choices, you’ll show him that you trust his opinion and value his input, and he’ll learn that when we cooperate, we can participate in the decision-making. That’s win for all involved!

What are some ways that you can see using these strategies at home with your child?

montessori parenting tips

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