Development FAQ: 24+ months – Learning

How much choice should I let my toddler of 2 years 7mths have?

How much choice should I allow my daughter, Sarah, who is 2 years 7 months, to have? I have always believed that giving plenty of choice over what to wear or eat would help her to grow up confident and knowing her own mind. But this isn’t happening as she constantly changes her mind or refuses every option I put to her. Some days I feel as though we are locked in confrontation from morning until night. I have tried reasoning with her, but it makes no difference.

Many two-and-a-half-year-olds have very definite opinions about what they like and don’t like, what they will wear and what they won’t wear. Life is quite black and white for them and they have very good staying powers when it comes to getting their own way.

While it is a good idea to encourage small children to have a say in certain things, giving them complete control and choice can have the reverse effect and make them feel very insecure. Children like to have boundaries and limits. They may rebel against them at times, but having them there helps children to feel secure knowing that their parents are in control.

With your daughter I would begin to put some limit on her choices, so she does have her say, but within your guidelines. Offer her two or three outfits she may choose to wear to nursery. If she begins to protest and starts to want something else, remain firm that she has to choose one of the ones selected or not at all. Try to remain detached and calm in the situation, rather than letting it escalate into a confrontation. At first you may meet with some resistance, but if you and anyone else who is involved in her care remain consistent and firm, she will soon realise that it is not worth being indecisive for long. Keep any reasoning simple and concise; “You may choose any of these outfits as it is going to be cold today and they will keep you warm”.

There will be many issues over which you should offer no choice, for example issues relating to safety or health. But where choice is appropriate, keep it simple, limiting the options to two or three at most. When offering a choice over food, give her three options you are happy with. If she has eaten ice cream three times this week then don’t offer it again; you know better than your daughter what makes up a healthy diet and you need to be in control of it. If she requests ice cream, even if it wasn’t an option, tell her there is no more left and that she will have to wait until the weekend when you go shopping. Next week offer her ice cream as an option once rather than every night.

It may take Sarah a while to fully adapt to the new way of choosing, but setting sensible limits while still allowing choice, will increase her security about things and make her less likely to change her mind or react over every issue.