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The power of a choice: reinforcing autonomy and avoiding power struggles

The opportunity to make choices is an important part of child development, it helps children to feel in control of parts of their lives and develops a healthy sense of autonomy. For children that are exploring and learning about their environment there are many "no's" and "don't do that". The "terrible two's" derives it's nickname from this time of wanting to assert independence and although this can be frustrating for parents and caregivers it is a healthy and important part of development.

How can you combat defiant behavior while developing the child's sense of autonomy? Give choices! There are many opportunities during the day to give choices.

When offering a snack: "do you want carrots or an apple?"

In the grocery store: "should we get this bunch of bananas or this bunch?"

When getting dressed: "do you want to wear the green shirt or the blue shirt?"

By providing limited choices you are dictating that the child will eat a healthy snack, that you will be buying bananas, and that they will be wearing a shirt and not their bathing suite while giving them choices which provide a sense of control. Choices help build self esteem and encourage healthy emotional development!

During music therapy we offer choices frequently to develop this sense of autonomy and avoid power struggles. Do you want the red shaker or the green shaker? Should we drum fast or slow? Do you want to sit on your cushion or on the carpet? Should we clap or stomp? Do you want to start with this hand (left) or this one (right)? Do you want the green chair or the red chair? When it's time to put away a favorite item I may say "should we put it in this bag, or this one?" I'm still dictating what we will be doing but the child has a sense of control over what they are doing and feel their decision is valued.

Choices are not just for kids, everyone needs choices! Choices are especially important for individuals who have lost some control in areas of their lives due to mobility or cognitive challenges. Choices are vital for emotional health (self esteem, sense of control, and a feeling of independence and purpose).

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