Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cookies and Choices

No, this is not a food post about baking with your kids. Sorry to get your hopes up all you foodies out there.  This is a post about the famous cookies and choices video by Dr. Gary Landreth (a professor up at the University of North Texas who has really made an impact in the field of play therapy to say the least).

The amazing video Dr. Landreth made (I wish I could post it on here but there are no clips on youtube) is called," Cookies, Choices and Kids." It's a pretty basic video of Dr. Landreth speaking to a group of parents about how to give children choices. If any of you get a chance to watch it, I HIGHLY recommend it. So many parents out there try to give their children choices, but it ends in disaster most of the time. It's also a good video about discipline in general.

I am going to start with all the choice giving wrongs out there and then go into the juicy good part of how it works. Oh and by the way, I am guilty of sometimes forgetting to give choices correctly too, so I am not a saint here, but let me tell you what I hear a lot of parents saying out there. First there is the "you can chose this or this or that one." Parents can give way TOO MANY choices. A 3 year old does not need 5 different choices in choosing their breakfast cereal.

Then there are the ambivalent comments, "that is NOT a good choice Sam!" as the child is running and screaming down the aisle at the grocery store. And the flip side, "that WAS a good choice Olivia" as the little girl shares with her brother. What is the problem with these? Well, first of all, where are the choices?

Secondly, you are telling the child something they did was good or bad but they have no idea what exactly they did that was good or bad. And what is the alternative??  If that was not a good choice, then they need their mom or dad to tell them what IS a good choice. If Sam can't run down the aisles, then what should he be doing instead? Hmmm... that is why children need us- to learn from!

Okay, now to the best part of this post, how do you give a child choices??? Well, let me start with the example from the video and how it got its name. Dr. Landreth's little girl one night was wanting a few Oreos and her parents did not want her to eat all 8 of the ones she wanted. So, he told her as she was whining, "You can choose to have 1 of the Oreo's, or you can choose to have none of the Oreos, what do you choose?" He gave her 2 choices. And she could choose whichever one she wanted.

See how easy that was? The best part of giving a child a choice, is that they are empowered in the decision making and are deciding on what they want. The parent gives them a choice and they can decide. Imagine if your partner told you "You can't have any Oreo's now, you've already had too many!" Or "you can have 1 more Oreo and that's it!!"  Ugh, how strict and annoying! Do these comments sound familiar? That is what we normally tell our kids when we are trying to discipline them. But imagine if your partner gave you a choice? You would feel less threatened and more willing to be compliant with them, right? Choices lead to feeling empowered which leads to more obedient kids.

When you are giving a child choices, you have to use the word 'Choice' in it, otherwise you aren't truly giving them a choice.  I also end the choice giving with the phrase 'you can decide.' That way, they know it is truly up to them.

Now, these are just general guidelines and sometimes there are other variations, but if you can just get the main idea, it will work wonders!

Of course, there are those times when your child will throw a temper tantrum because they don't like either choice! When that happens, well, limit setting is a whole other post, but you can basically just start by re-stating the choice and reflecting back to them how unhappy or mad they are about it. For example, "I know you really want all 8 Oreos and you are mad about that, but your choices are....."  or "I know you are really upset but your choices are: you can have 1 Oreo or none of the Oreos, the decision is up to you" :)

So, has choice giving worked for you and your kids? Do you remember how your parents used to give you choices and if that worked or not??

(photo credit from Dr. Landreth at cpt.unt.edu)


  1. [...] They hear what they are not supposed to do and are told what they can do instead. If you go to my Cookie and Choices post, you can read about alternatives and choice giving [...]

  2. [...] -As for the makeup, nail painting and bling, you can limit some of it for very special occasions so they know it is a treat and not something a girl needs ALL THE TIME to make herself beautiful. That way she knows that these things are not required to make yourself beautiful. Use your limit setting that I posted here and choice giving. [...]

  3. [...] what about giving a choice? I have talked before about how to give choices when setting limits here. The best example is the Cookies and Choices theory.  It goes like this: When your child wants the [...]

  4. [...] touches on giving choices to children.  I have talked about giving choices as a form of discipline here.  But the article discusses how a lot of parents are giving too many choices-and not for [...]

  5. I watch the cookies and choices and loved it. We're now work on giving choices.

  6. We love that video too! I always think about it every time I give my child a choice :)

  7. [...] choices to kids as a form of discipline, is something I’ve talked about several times (here) as I love the principal behind it:  It empowers kids to make their own [...]