Authentic Choice

Note: This blog post has been cross-published on

Most of the time when we give kids a choice, it’s pretty clear to them what we want them to choose. Sure, you’re giving them the choice between finishing their work and missing recess, and they can choose, but my experience has been that giving such choice is only step 1 of building authentic choice. Step 2 is, not shockingly, respecting that choice and communicating such respect.

Easier said than done, right? Too often, when a child makes the choice we don’t want them to, we get angry or otherwise try to convince them of the better option. Here’s the problem – in a discipline model in which the end goal is building accountability to self rather than accountability to authority, your voiced disapproval actually hurts rather than helps. By coercing them into your preferred choice, you’re actually taking away from their ability to make their choice, thereby moving agency/authority from their sphere into yours. You’re teaching them to behave for you, and make choices that you like, not ones that actually benefit them.

Again, back to “easier said than done.” So, one thing that makes it “easier done” is doing a bit of “under the hood” work in your own mind with expectations. The first step is to stop wanting them to make your choice, and seeing wrong choices as potentially right ones. What does this mean? This means that really, truly letting kids make any choice presented to them, then experiencing the results, builds a stronger perceived connection between their own agency with decision-making and the end result. In short, they start to see themselves as the ones responsible for good or bad results of their choices. They start to remove you as the middle man, and start to see themselves as the ones responsible for their actions.