Giving choices is hard for my difficult child - I need advice...

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by laurensmyprincess, Jun 18, 2008.

  1. laurensmyprincess

    laurensmyprincess New Member

    Hi all,

    My daughter has a hard time making a decision when given choices. I know that usually giving choices can result in positive things like the child feeling more in control. With my daughter, it is almost like she wants to do it all and is so conflicted with what to do. (Let me just preface this by saying that we ONLY give her two choices to choose from for any situation, not more).

    For example, I posted a week or so ago about how she has been refusing to go to school. Well we have been transitioning back, but today for example, I brought her to school and she absolutely refused to let go of me and refused to go into her classroom.

    The EA that has been working with us this week and I were trying to reason, coax, etc her to go with the EA (who she has gone willingly with for two days).

    Anyway, the EA then said to her that she had to bring another student up to her class and she was going to take the elevator and asked my daughter if she wanted to come and be her special helper and push the button in the elevator. Well, you could see that my daughter thought that was a great idea and she WANTED to go, but she would not let go of me. I told her that I could not go, but she should go with her teacher.

    Well, this went on for about 10 minutes and at the end, the teacher had to go (we warned daughter that the teacher would need to go if daughter could not make up her mind). Well, that resulted in a SERIOUS meltdown after she left. She wanted so badly to go with her, I could totally see it. But, yet she could not leave me and was so conflicted and could not actually act on what she wanted to do, that it turned into a huge rage.

    Can anyone offer any advice or strategies on how to deal with this sort of thing? Honestly, for my daughter, giving her options and choices is often not a good thing.
  2. tiredmommy

    tiredmommy Site Moderator

    First, could her medications be adding to this problem?

    Also, I would "layer-in" her choices slowly, adding more each week. Ex:

    Week 1: What for breakfast... eggs or pancakes?
    Week 2: What to wear... shorts or skirt?
    What for breakfast?
    Week 3: Which bedtime story... Junie b. Jones or Magic Treehouse? ***And***
    What for breakfast?
    What to wear?

    I'd cut down on the number of choices right now as she seems so thoroughly overwhelmed. She probably needs some simple successes to build on.
  3. smallworld

    smallworld Moderator

    It sounds as if giving Lauren choices is making her anxious and therefore causing meltdowns. Sometimes putting limits around the choices can help. For example:

    Mom: "It looks as if you really want to go with Mrs. X in the elevator. How about if I walk you to the elevator door and then Mrs. X will hold your hand while you walk into the elevator."


    Mom: "It looks as if you really want to go with Mrs. X in the elevator. What's the last thing you want to do before you go?"

    Sometimes you can't offer choices in an anxiety-ridden situation (like going to school). It seems to me that the EA shouldn't let you cajole too long, but instead be decisive about leading Lauren into school.

    How is Lauren's underlying anxiety being addressed?
  4. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    We still have this problem with easy child 2/difficult child 2, and she's 21. The problem can be complex and often comes down to - when you choose Option A, it means you have rejected Option B which is now permanently cut off. The problem is less one of making the choice to do something, as making the choice to close off all other options.

    What helps for us - I give her information to favour one option over another. If she chooses the non-recommended option out of pure cussedness, that's OK because at least she is making a choice.
    For example, in your situation - "Why do not want to leave me? You get me a lot of the time, we will be together after school. While you're with your teacher I will be at home working on something for us to do afterwards. I will not be offended if you choose to go with your teacher."

    Sometimes when they're clingy over school you just have to be matter-of-fact and not say a word about their reluctance. Some kids don't want you to think they don't care, and that the only way to show you is to make a fuss about leaving you at the school gate. Some kids are also afraid of missing out on something else that will be going on in their absence. If there is something you can tell her you need to do, that you know she would find boring, then use that. Make sure you can verify it, though.

    But as smallworld said, with something like school it's best to not give choices. It's where being matter-of-fact comes in. Instead of saying, "Would you like to go to school today, or stay home?" (absolutely disastrous to say to a kid who is even remotely trying to find excuses to stay home) you can say, "I've put something yummy in your lunch box today, to have at school." Or it could be a small bottle of bubble mix (like the ones they hand out at weddings). Or some other small but disposable plaything.
    If she tries to stay home, then she forfeits the lunch box treat because "that's only for school."
    You might even be able to set up a special task, or item, which she can only have at school. For example our number-obsessed son was rewarded with being allowed to change the day on the classroom calendar. Clearly he couldn't do this at home, because the calendar was a school thing.

    When I suspected difficult child 3 was staying home to avoid schoolwork (which he was finding challenging) I brought in our "school work during school hours" rule and made 'staying home' as tedious as I could, to encourage him to go to school instead.

    Making choices is a good thing to do, within her capacity to handle it. As I do with easy child 2/difficult child 2 now, I make her choose where I possible can because she has to learn how.

  5. Andy

    Andy Active Member

    I like how Marguerite explained that one choice cuts off the options of the other choice. It is like being on vacation in Disney World and asking on the very first day what should be done that day, Magic Kingdom or Animal Planet? Kids want both. They think whichever I choose, maybe something will happen and I won't ever be able to get to do the other option? They want all the fun they can pack into one day. They haven't learned that there may be another time for the other option.

    Your difficult child is still young. She is just not ready for choices yet. You can prepare her by spending the next few weeks explaining to her why you made a choice you hope she can make. "We are going to have toast and juice this morning because we are out of milk." "It is cold out today so you should wear pants instead of shorts." "There is so much to do at Disney World, I made a calendar so that we will not miss anything, let's see what is on the calendar for today."

    Then, choose one daily thing for her to choose such as giving her two outfits to choose one to wear, or having her pick out the vegetable for the evening meal, or choosing the bed time snack. You can give the other option a home: "Here are two outfits, one for today and one for tomorrow, which one do you want to wear today? Same with evening snack, Here are two choices, which one do you want for tonight and which one should we save to tomorrow?" It might help to know that she is not missing out on the 2nd choice.

    Once she is comfortable with that daily decision, you can start adding other times for choices.