Happy Kids - Michael Grose

Choice Theories Explained

A fascinating study into the behaviour patterns of American sports stars showed that there’s one background difference between those who behave badly in public (party hard, break the law, alcohol issues, ect) and those that behave well.


That background factor has nothing to do with race, education and social class.


It has everything to do with parenting.


The researcher found that those sports stars that had been given training in decision-making from a young age, grew up making smarter choices than those who had all decisions made for them.


Sports stars who came from an authoritarian parenting background (Do as I say?) or a permissive background (Do as you want?) were more likely to make, in some cases, appalling life choices.


Now, I’m always a little sceptical about claims made by various studies, as usually many factors are at play.  But the study makes an interesting observation about parenting. It points directly toward authoritative parenting (as described in Thriving!) as the way to go.


I’ve written and spoken often over the years about how important it is to give kids some determination over their own lives. That means giving them chances to make little decisions about a whole bunch of stuff that impacts on them.


Not only is this good practice for later on, it’s also about developing independence in kids too.

Independent kids are more likely to make decisions for themselves, than those who are always directed by adults.


As some of you may know, I have student leadership program (Young leaders Program) that many Australian primary schools use to develop leadership skills in kids.  Naturally, choice theory is part of the Young Leaders Program as decision-making is a big part of leadership.


How to apply choice theory to everyday parenting

Develop the habit of involving your kids in making little decisions about every day life issues. BUT (and there’s a big BUT), only give them a choice of one or two things. 

Here are some examples:

“What would you like for dinner?   Fish or meat?”

“How much milk do you want in your glass? Half way up or all the way to the top”

Sometimes the choices you give kids require some broader guidance.

“We’re going out to grandma’s.  Make sure you wear something that she’ll think will look nice.”  NB: Be prepared to have an interesting discussion over the definition of nice!


Sometimes choices are invited.

“Grandma’s coming to visit for the weekend. What can you do to make her feel welcome?”
Opportunities to make choices are provided to kids according to their age and stage of development, and their ability to act in their own best interests. In other words, there are times when you have to make decisions for kids as they don’t know what they don’t know.


Maybe give kids input into their choice of secondary school, but even then, I think parents make the call. As kids get older they make more choices around the things that affect them. So a 16 year-old makes most of the calls on the subjects they choose and what they want to do with their lives. Many parents are still making these decisions for their kids……… 

Step back, please! Guide, don’t decide!


Decision-making in families works like this:

Parents rule: There are many BIG issues that are in parents’ domain revolving around health, safety, education & kids’ well-being.

Kids decide: There are some issues that kids can decide. Usually parent help is needed though. This will differ for many families but I personally like to give kids latitude over bedroom tidiness; the amount of food they eat; how they spend pocket-money; what they wear; their choice of leisure, and the like.  Hint: Imagine you had a large family. Your kids would be making lots of decisions about personal issues!

Family decides:  There are times when everyone has some input into how the family operates. Kids have input into routines, sorting out joint problems (e.g what to do with wet towels left on the floor?) and family rules including how mobiles, televisions and computers are used.

You start out as a parent when kids are young in Parents Rule mode. Your aim is to move to Children Decide mode!

You know they’ve reached real independence when you stop telling them what to do as they are responsible enough to make their own choices and capable of recovering from poor ones.
Along the way, you involve kids in family decision-making processes so that they feel part of the family, and learn how to belong to their group through positive contribution.

That’s the theory! Putting it into practice is tricky! That’s where the work comes in. But it’s well worth the effort!

How close does choice theory apply to your family?

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