choicesWithout question the best way to get kids, all kids, to do what you want them to do is…

Let them choose. If this is a new concept to you and you are dealing with a teenager I’m not going to guarantee it will work the first time. However, after a few trials you are likely to discover why this approach, while perhaps against our most visceral impulses, is far more effective than asking, telling or demanding a child to do what you want.

Why it works? Quite simply, choice empowers. When students choose, they take responsibility, and when they take responsibility they follow through. Glorious isn’t it? Ok, so it doesn’t always work perfectly. But as you get more comfortable letting them choose, and they grow more comfortable making choices, it creates a virtuous cycle of self-awareness and self-improvement.

How to do it? Give them three good choices and let them decide. Why 3? It provides sufficient range so they truly feel they are making a decision yet not too many choices to get them bogged down. This also lets you set some limits within the choices. Lay out the options first. Then identify the pros and cons of each option so they learn to think through their choices.

What to avoid? Don’t be disappointed if they don’t make what you view as the right decision. And don’t try to change their mind. You have to let them learn. Assuming you didn’t provide an option that would allow them to get hurt, get into trouble, or indisputably fail, how bad could it be? On a positive note, when they aren’t thrilled with the outcome, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the three choices and learn from mistakes.

Want specific examples? Here are a few common situations and how you might handle them:

Arguments over weekend homework

Option 1: You do it all Friday. Pros: You get it out of the way and you are less stressed and can enjoy your weekend. Cons: It’s the end of the week, you’re tired, and you need a break or you won’t do your best work.

Option 2: You do it all Sunday night (as usual). Pros: You get to come home on Friday, relax, clear your mind and refresh for a couple days. Cons: If you underestimate the amount of time it will take, you will be up late on Sunday and that will affect you for the entire week. I can let you do that once, but if that happens, then Sunday won’t be an option again.

Option 3: Space it out. Get some out of the way on Friday and then some on Saturday. On Sunday you can do whatever is left. Pros: No single day has too much work. Cons: You don’t get a day off and you could still leave too much for Sunday.

Remembering Your Things

Option 1: Remember it in your head. Pros: Nothing extra to do. If you are really good at remembering this might work. Cons: If you’re busy or stressed, you might forget something important. If you forget an assignment or your uniform, I won’t bring it to you.

Option 2: Keep a written checklist of everything you need and use it to pack up the night before. Pros: This is definitely the best way to make sure you don’t forget anything. Cons: You need to prepare a list and then be sure to use it and not lose it.

Option 3: Keep a list on your phone and use that. Pros: You always have your phone with you so you can always find and re-use your list. You can also use your phone to set yourself a reminder to check your list. Cons: When you look at items on your phone, you are more likely to miss something than if you use paper.

It is that simple and it will work for all kids. However, if you have one of those “inflexible thinkers” expect it will take longer. Learn more about helping with flexible thinking here.

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