How to Offer Your Child Age-Appropriate Choices

By Elizabeth Ernest, LMFT, LCSW

As a therapist specializing in child development, I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of empowering children with age-appropriate choices. It’s a simple yet profound concept that can significantly enhance a child’s sense of autonomy, self-esteem, and decision-making skills. In a world where children are often told what to do and how to do it, fostering a sense of agency can lay the foundation for their future success and well-being.

From the moment children begin to assert their independence, usually around the age of two, they crave opportunities to make decisions. Whether it’s choosing their outfit for the day, selecting a snack from the pantry, or deciding which toy to play with, these seemingly small choices are instrumental in helping children develop a sense of identity and control over their lives.

But why is offering choices so important? First and foremost, it acknowledges the child’s individuality and validates their feelings and preferences. By giving children a say in matters that affect them, we communicate that their opinions matter and that they are capable of making decisions. This validation fosters a sense of self-worth and instills confidence in their abilities.

Moreover, offering choices allows children to practice decision-making in a safe and supportive environment. Like any skill, decision-making requires practice and guidance to develop effectively. By gradually introducing choices and providing guidance as needed, parents and caregivers can help children learn to weigh options, consider consequences, and make informed decisions—a skill that will serve them well throughout life.

However, it’s essential to emphasize the importance of age-appropriate choices. While giving children autonomy is crucial, it’s equally important to ensure that the choices offered are suitable for their developmental stage and level of understanding. For younger children, choices may be limited to selecting between two options, such as choosing between a banana or an apple for a snack. As children grow older, they can handle more complex decisions, such as deciding how to spend their free time or what extracurricular activities to pursue.

Additionally, it’s essential to strike a balance between offering choices and maintaining necessary boundaries. While children should have a say in matters that affect them, there will inevitably be times when certain decisions are non-negotiable for safety or other reasons. In such cases, it’s crucial to explain the reasons behind the decision in age-appropriate language, reinforcing the idea that boundaries are in place out of love, concern, and safety. Even as a therapist it can be hard to communicate to children the importance of adult choices vs child choices. One way you can explain this to your children is that adults make big choices, such as when to leave the house, while children may decide what shoes they wear.

In conclusion, giving children age-appropriate choices is a powerful tool for fostering autonomy, self-esteem, and decision-making skills. By acknowledging children’s individuality, providing opportunities for decision-making, and maintaining appropriate boundaries, parents and caregivers can empower children to navigate the world with confidence and resilience. As therapists, educators, and caregivers, let’s embrace the power of choice and nurture the next generation of independent thinkers and decision-makers.