“What choices do you have?”

This week I once again used a powerful tantrum-stopping sentence…

Florence (two and a half) was tired, it was coming up to dinner time, and she hadn’t seen Ben or myself since that morning. It was a recipe for meltdown. As she dived on the sofa face down insisting that she wanted Daddy. I asked very calmly “what choices do you have in this moment?”

The whingy voice became one of intrigued confusion: “huh?” I continued: “Let’s look at them together; you can continue to lie on the sofa and feel sad, you could go upstairs and look for daddy, or you could play with mummy”. The look on her face was a picture, from contorted to happy in just seconds. She looked up as she thought about it with a big smile on her face before exclaiming “play with mummy!” When I asked if she wanted to play downstairs or upstairs she looked as if she might explode with excitement.

I know this won’t work every time but it proves that kids LOVE choices. I believe a lot of tantrums are a result of children feeling that their choices have been taken away. Think about tantrums you’ve seen or experienced, we’ve nearly always just said “no”. Sometimes we must say no, but if we think about it, there might also be a choice. Instead of “we must leave now” we could ask whether they would like to wear their jacket to the car or carry it. Instead of “no you can’t have chocolate”, we could say chocolate isn’t very good for you, which of these snacks would you like this morning?

When we’re tired, stressed or anxious it’s almost impossible to think of a choice. I was all of these (and super embarrassed) when Florence pooped on a friends floor and refused to put her trousers on afterwards. In that moment I couldn’t quite think straight but I have thought since about possible choices or consequences which I will use if a similar ‘accident’ occurs. That’s how we learn right? Child embarrasses us, we feel anxious, resort to punishment, feel bad, do better next time.