Foster kids have not been able to control very many decisions in their life. They have been told where they can live and where they can’t. They have had many adults, probably mostly strangers, telling them what comes next. They don’t have a choice. It’s not up to them. One thing that you can do for your foster or adopted child, is offer them choices. Let them feel like they get to make some decisions. Grapes or applesauce. Red shirt or blue shirt. This helps them feel like they have a little bit of control in their life. Plus, you’re less likely to have an unnecessary battle if they get to help with the decision.
You can also offer choices if you have a task that they need to complete. Lets say they need to pick up toys in their room. Which of these will result in a child obeying quicker, “Get your room picked up now” or “Do you want to pick up Legos first or dinosaurs?” in a calm voice. The second option, of course, will more likely have a positive response.
For one of our boys, transitions were hard. Bedtime, for example, was often challenging. We would give him the option of putting on his pajamas first or brushing his teeth first. He liked to be the one to decide. Sometimes, he didn’t want to stop playing to get ready for bed. In that case, we would tell him that he could play for 10 more minutes, but then there wouldn’t be time for a story or a book. He usually would choose story time because Dad tells the best stories. For an older child, you can offer them a now or later approach. Do you want to take the trash out now or after supper? Either way, they are taking out the trash, but this allows them to decide when it’s happening.
Choices are also great for a strong-willed child. You can ask my Mom & Dad. Thanks to me, they had a lot of training. When I was young, we would get my clothes picked out the night before school, so that there wouldn’t be a battle in the morning. Even if the parent is picking out the 2 or 3 options, the child still gets to feel like they have a say in the final decision. When you let your child make some of the choices, the result will hopefully be a happier child.
Here’s another idea. What if your child wants two cookies, but you prefer that they only have 1. Instead of saying no, tell them that you’ll put one cookie in a Ziploc bag with their name on it and they can have it after supper. If they get upset because they want 2 cookies now, then just politely say it’s zero cookies or 1 cookie now. Once you give them their choices, don’t change your mind. You have to be consistent. My kids know that I won’t change my mind once I give my answer. If you are consistent, then they will argue with you less. Don’t let the conversation continue. If they try to argue with you, simply say, “I gave you my answer.” There’s nothing left to discuss after that.
Offering choices helped us out so much when our boys moved to our house. The next time your child digs in their heels, surprise them by giving them options rather than direct commands. Sometimes the best Jedi mind tricks use less force.