Improve Child Development by Teaching Choice-Making

Having the opportunity to make choices is beneficial for most children. It encourages better child development, communication and learning. In fact, there are several reasons why allowing children to make choices benefits their development. LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) provides the following insights on how to help children become choice-makers and suggestions on how parents can help.

What is choice-making?

Choice-making occurs when children select an item or activity from among two or more options. This offers control and may be particularly important for some children who engage in socially motivated challenging behaviors. Choices can be positive reinforcers or actual tasks to be performed.

For whom is choice-making useful?

Among children who are motivated to escape activities or have a need to demonstrate control over conditions of engagement in activities, some children choose between two options because they are supported by being allowed to choose. If so, allowing the child to choose which option he or she would like to do first may reduce escape-motivated challenging behavior.

For example, every day the nurse comes to Adrian’s preschool to administer his seizure medications. Adrian hates to take the medications. He cries when they are offered. When offered a choice of which pill is taken first, the white one or the red one, Adrian readily chooses, ingests the pill chosen, and then takes the remaining pill with no crying.

How can choice-making be offered to children?

  1. Offering choices throughout the day honors children’s individual differences.

    Example: Ms. Hansen regularly offers a choice of juice or milk at snack. With some activities, a choice of when a child will engage in a nonpreferred task can be offered.

  2. Give children the opportunity to choose between two non-preferred options. By choosing the option which is most acceptable of the two, he or she is able to avoid the least preferred option.

    Example: Jacob screams and cries when asked to help with clean-up after free play. However, if given a choice of putting the books on the shelf or putting the building blocks away, Jacob will readily choose to put the books away since this requires less effort.

  3. Limiting the number of choices available may help children who have a difficult time choosing from a large array of options or children who are withdrawn.

    Example: Lexi does not engage in activities during free play, but aimlessly follows after her teacher. When the teacher provides a more limited choice of giving the dolls a bath or sliding in a pool of leaves, Lexi happily chooses to slide into the leaves with the other children.

Choice-making is a way to have children become more engaged and cooperative while being involved in a positive developmental process. This gives children a sense of control, motivation to participate and the ability to improve communication while positively reinforcing their social skills and personal identity.

Please visit the LEND website to learn more about the options that go into choice-making and challenging behaviors and for more examples to understand why choice-making is important for children and their development.

Reprinted with permission of the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) at CEHD UMN.

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