Helping Your Child Make Choices
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very young children want to have a little control over what
happens in their environment. Babies cry, smile, vocalize
and gesture in order to explore or to make things happen.
Between 10 and 12 months of age, infants express their wants
in very intentional ways. They lift their arms to be picked
up or point to a desired object, or hand something to mommy.
This happens because these infants have figured out that
their actions cause adults to act. This important discovery
opens up a world of communication. Toddlers quickly learn
which actions or language allow them to gain some power.
Of course, parents have to decide just how much control
any child can have over himself or herself or the family.
Studies of parents of deaf and hard of hearing children
show that if parents and children communicate easily, then
parents can find positive ways of helping children take
part in decision making. If communication is difficult,
then parents tend to make many more of the decisions. When
this happens, young children can begin to use inappropriate
behaviors to demand some control.
Communication is the key to helping
children begin to make choices independently, so your family's
choice of communication strategies is very important.
You can give your baby or toddler the chance to make a choice
even without words or sentences, however. When you bring
a toy in response to a cry and hold it near the baby's hand,
you are essentially saying, "Do you want this, or do
you want something else?" When your baby reaches for
the toy or smiles, that is a choice. If you hold two toys
out to a slightly older baby, and the baby reaches for one
or the other, your baby has made choice. You can talk or
sign about that choice, saying, "Oh you want teddy."
will know which choices you tend to offer your baby the
most often. If you are signing, put the signs for those
choices on your list of Signs to Learn Right Away. As your
baby grows and attends to more and more, your list will
grow, too. If your baby is learning to listen, emphasize
the idea of choosing and the words for the choices. Be sure
that your baby knows what is happening. You will need to
use language like, "Which one?" and "You
picked _______." The situation, your questioning face
and voice, and the result of getting the selected item or
action will help your baby learn the language for making
Of course, the choices you offer your
baby are real choices. Water
or juice can be a real choice of something to drink. Walking
or riding in the stroller can be a real choice for a toddler.
Daddy playing with blocks or reading a story can be a real
choice of special together time. When your baby is deaf
or hard of hearing, you must be sure that the choices are
not only real, but are clearly understood. Misunderstanding
can lead to false hope or confusion. Until you and your
baby clearly understand the speech or signs for your choices,
you can support the language by having real objects to point
to, or gestures that represent actions.
Opportunities to make choices help
children gain independence and confidence. Choice making
is a useful positive parenting tool for avoiding behavior
problems. Giving choices is respectful to your child, too.
It recognizes a growing capability and the right of children
to have at least a small "say" in their own lives.
It also helps a child learn to make decisions and express
Here are some examples of giving choices
to babies at various ages.
6 month old (spoken language):
Baby turns away from a toy she and dad were playing
with. Dad notices that she is losing interest. He brings
out a different favorite toy and makes sound with it. Baby
looks interested again and dad says, "Oh, you hear
it. You like your clown." As baby reaches for it, dad
comments, "You want clown."
month old (sign language):
Baby turns away from toy she and dad were playing with.
Dad notices she is losing interest. He offers a brightly
colored set of toy keys. He brings it into her line of vision
and signs on the toy, "Your keys. See? Keys."
When baby grins and grabs, he signs, "You want keys!"
10 month old (spoken language):
Your infant is reaching up toward the toy shelf. You
are not sure what she wants. You pick two toys from the
shelf and offer this simple choice. You bring the toys into
your baby's line of vision and say, "You want your
doggie or the mirror?" As the baby picks one, you affirm
the choice saying, "You want the mirror. See the baby?
10 month old (sign language):
Your infant is reaching up toward the toy shelf. You are
not sure what she wants. You pick two toys from the shelf
and set them on a lower shelf. You sign near the toys, "you
want doggie? Or mirror? Which? Your face conveys a question
expression and your body makes a shift to show the choice
you are offering.
12 month old (spoken language)
It is breakfast time and you offer a bite of oatmeal
to your baby. He shoves it away. You say, "you don't
want cereal. Want some peaches? Yummy. Mmmmm. Here comes
the airplane aaaaaaaaaaa. Open up!" In this example,
you just gave your little one an alternate food and respected
his "don't want." You also gave nice opportunities
12 month old (sign language)
It is breakfast time and you offer a bite of oatmeal to
your baby. He shoves it away. You shake your head and sign,
"you don't want." Then you bring the peaches up
in his line of vision. You sign, "Good peaches! Want
a bite." He opens his mouth and you smile and give
him a bite commenting, "Yummy peaches." In this
example, you have respected his don't want and have made
sure to present his new choice visually with supportive
18 month old (spoken language)
Your toddler is playing with Lego blocks and is tired of
stacking. You sit down and offer a verbal choice. "Can
we make an airplane? Or a choo choo? Look, my airplane goes
up up up! I hear your train say choo choo." Toddlers
start to do a lot of pretending on a fairly realistic level
at this age. You can encourage this pretending by showing
the child your pretend and talking about it. You will also
be exposing the child to some good language and listening
month old (sign language)
Your toddler is playing with Lego blocks and is tired of
stacking. You sit down and offer a signed choice. "Wanna
make airplanes? Watch! Airplane up up up. You wanna try
it?" Sign airplane right on the toy as the little one
begins to pretend. Next sign, "now hook them. Look
a train!" Sign train right on the Lego. Toddlers start
to do a lot of pretending on a fairly realistic level at
this age. You can encourage this pretending by showing the
child your pretend and talking about it. You will also be
exposing the child to some good visual language models.