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Controlled Choices: Unlocking the Secret Parenting Strategy

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As an Occupational Therapist, I often work with children who have difficulty following instructions. One of the strategies I often use is called “Controlled Choices”. Controlled choices is where the adult presents the child with two or more options. For example, the child needs to complete two worksheets. The adult might say, “Billy, which activity would you like to do first?”.

Controlled choices allow children to feel a sense of control. We, as adults know, if we have a sense of control and make an active choice, we are more likely to follow through with the task. This is the same with children. Controlled choices can increase motivation to complete the task, reduce task refusal and increase task engagement and completion.

Sometimes when we are offered too many options, we can become overwhelmed with making a decision. I often experience this challenge when I go to a restaurant and they have all my favourite dishes. It can make choosing ONE dish extremely difficult. However, when we are given the choice between two or three options, it can make the choice-making process a little bit easier. Therefore when possible, it can be beneficial for you to offer your child two or three options.

A close-up of a yummy variable choice of restaurant dishes for banquet.

Here are some examples of Controlled Choices:

  • Would you like to read Little Red Riding Hood or Three Little Pigs tonight?
  • Do you want to have a shower first or brush your teeth first?
  • Would you like to do some writing with the blue pencil or the purple pencil?
  • Would you like mum or dad to help you?
  • Do you want to wear your runners or sandals today?

Controlled choices allow parents to offer reasonable choices to the child. It allows the child to feel control over the activity and can increase motivation in completing the task.

What are some other examples of controlled choices you think you can use?

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