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Giving Children Choices: How to do this, why choices are important and ideas for getting the best outcomes

By Warwick Marshall
© ChildForum

giving children choices


Giving young children choices and empowering them to make their own decisions will help prepare them for life. 

The early years are the best time for children to begin to learn about making choices and consequences.

The ability to choose is the essence of being human. 

Consider how many choices you make each year, month, week, day, hour, minute, second.  Now consider your reaction if you’re prevented from making any one of those choices.

An authoritarian adult who withholds a child’s ability to choose takes away freedom.  It doesn't take long for the tipping point to be reached; so offering choice leads to win-win outcomes.


Freedom to choose within expectations and boundaries

Freedom of choice in society is guided and restricted by boundaries and expectations. 

  • A boundary is something that indicates bounds or limits.
  • An expectation is a strong belief that something will happen or be the case.

To promote fair and safe outcomes choices are restricted or guided by values, philosophies, laws, regulations and so on.


Freedom with no responsibility leads to poor choices

Freedom to choose is not about a child always getting his or her way.  Children quickly learn, appreciate and need expectations and boundaries.  Experiencing consequences enables children to learn to make good (or at least better) decisions. 

Adult support is required to:

  • Establish clear boundaries and expectations.
  • Create an environment offering plentiful choice.
  • Support a child’s experience of the good and bad consequences of decisions.


It’s the little things 

Choices are made all the time and come in all shapes and sizes and at different levels.  It is the little choices, their outcomes and how a child is supported through the consequences that will often determine the quality of bigger more consequential decision-making. 

Initially some people can be shocked when first hearing about letting a ‘child’ choose because they are underestimating children’s capabilities, “Come-on, please tell me exactly how you ask a baby to choose”.  Well, as many know, instead of picking a baby up without them knowing we could first show them our hands indicating that we are about to pick them up and, or by asking if they would like to be picked up.  Very quickly a baby will communicate their preference the same way. Offering choice is equated with showing respect.


The ECE curriculum, programme, and philosophy offers children choice

How we respect children should be embodied in the ECE service structure, values, philosophy, routines, rituals, mission statements, etc. These also establish the boundaries and expectations.  Regular reflection and reviews should consider if the environment and programme flows and if boundaries and expectations are appropriate without unnecessary rules.

All kinds of variables will be considered when deciding on expectations and boundaries. The important thing is there actually are expectations and boundaries.  For example, requiring children to come together for morning tea or mat-time can be beneficial. Rituals such as these offer lots of learning opportunities.  Also such rituals can build closer relationships, and fill children up with love and a strong sense of belonging that will help get them through their day. 

But isn’t this taking away freedom of choice?  Read more below ...

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