Boy scratching his head because of too many questions

Take back control! Why limiting your child's choices is better for you both

As children become more independent, parenting can sometimes become more challenging. With cries of “Me do it!” and “Don’t want that!”, you begin to realise your child is taking charge and making all the decisions. It's time to take action and stop the battles. And the answer lies in giving your child choices — but not too many!

By Nicky Sanford

Children's outbursts are often the result of feeling frustrated.

This, coupled with the urge for indepdendence, both in actions and in thoughts and decisions, can make things challenging for everyone.

Trying to balance this into a busy day can be frustrating for both parents and children! 

It takes time to gain an insight into other people’s perspective and to understand that what you are thinking or wanting is not always the same as that of other people.

But this is an important developmental stage for children and we can help them along this journey with clear options and direct instructions but without giving them ultimate control and power. 

For your little one, life is often purely about what they want, and when they want it, but below are some ways to keep control without losing the power of parenting.

Moving on

As children continue to grow, they begin to develop a ‘theory of mind’ enabling them to have an understanding of how other people are feeling and what others may want. This means they can begin to be able to adjust their actions in response to those wishes.  As a result, taking turns becomes easier, children may be able to wait for a short while until their needs can be met plus they begin to understand why plans may change or they may start to appreciate the concept of ‘later’.

How to help

To help children along the way, giving your child some choices and options are really good ways to ‘compromise’ and ease the passage of the day, avoid battles and confrontations and give children some control over their daily lives while keeping within appropriate limits.

Tips to try

Choose your words

Firstly, think about the things that must be done and make sure that you phrase yourself in a way that isn’t optional.

For example, “Time for tea” needs an immediate response, whereas “Would you like to come for tea now?” could be met with the response “No, I want to finish my puzzle”. Similarly, "Do you want to have a wee?” could also bring the reply “No, not yet”.   

On the other hand, “What do you want for tea?”, or “Where shall we go on Saturday?”  allow for limitless choices and might open you up to responses that you find you need to say “No” to!   

These type of actions are not optional, and are not a request but a statement that needs compliance, so think about how it can be worded as such.

A choice of two

There are ways, however, for your child to be involved and take some control and for you to avoid the fallout from the disappointment.  Here are some great examples…

Meal times: Offer two options for dinner.. “Would you like pasta or rice?”  While the choice is down to your child, the options are limited and achievable or you. 

Shopping: When shopping, allow your child to choose which order you visit the shops… “Shall we go to the bank first or to the bookshop?”.  With more involvement you will certainly find there is more co-operation and an easier trip for everyone! 

Getting dressed: This can be another challenging area, and there are a few things which you can do to help both with independence and with choices. 

Do you find your child chooses clothes that clash or are not suitable for the weather? Try organising a warm weather drawer and a colder weather drawer — this means your child can select their own clothes, but only from the appropriate drawer, avoiding them demanding shorts when it snows! 

Another idea could be to print out pictures of different types of clothing to make up an ‘outfit’ but allowing your little one to choose the actual items of clothing. For example, “Today you will need pants, socks, shorts, a t-shirt with short sleeves and a fleece just in case”.  Does it really matter which colours or patterns are chosen?

Invest in some stickers which say “I dressed myself” and everyone will be proud of the ensemble created. 

Ask your child: “Which can you do yourself and which do you need help with?”. If your child does need help getting dressed always help with the first bit so that they can finish the job with a great sense of pride and achievement!    


  • Avoiding open-ended choices keeping to two distinct options.
  • Keep them involved and give them ownership of the daily activities and routines.
  • Don’t make it sound optional if it’s not really not a choice.

Turn the tables for a bit of fun

Everyone likes to feel in control of their life, and children are no different. 

Try turning the tables and allow them to make decisions for you. "Which shirt should I wear?" "What shoes should I put on?" "What cereal should I have for breakfast?"

Playing "I’ll choose for you and you choose for me" can be a fun excursion from the pressures of day-to-day decision making for everyone!

As long as you achieve the required results does it matter which route you take to get there?


Written by Nicky Sanford for the Early Years Alliance. Nicky worked as an early years teacher for 15 years and currently works in a village pre-school. 

Where next?

How to develop your child's emotional literacy

Boosting your child's listening skills