Helping Your Child Make Choices

Baby in High Chair

Imagine that this little boy indicates that he is thirsty. Mom or dad can use this as a chance to offer a choice by holding up juice or milk. They ask, “Do you want juice or milk? Which one?” Choice making helps a child gain independence!

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. 

Choices Help Children Gain Independence and Confidence 

Providing choices is a useful parenting tool for avoiding behavior problems. 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 preferences. 

Choices You Offer Vary By Age 

6 months old
SituationBaby turns away from a toy she and dad were playing with.
Spoken Language
  • 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 the clown." 
  • By being responsive to the baby's behaviors (loss of interest), Dad provides opportunities for the baby to make a new choice. 
Sign Language
  • 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!" 
  • By being responsive to the baby's behaviors (loss of interest), Dad provides opportunities for the baby to make a new choice. 
10 months old
SituationYour infant is reaching up toward the toy shelf.
Spoken Language
  • 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? Hi baby!" 
Sign Language
  • 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 months old
SituationIt is breakfast time and you offer a bite of oatmeal to your baby.
Spoken Language
  • He shoves it away.  
  • You say, "You don't want cereal. Want some peaches? Yummy. mmmm.  
  • "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 to listen. 
Sign Language
  • 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 body language. 
18 months old
SituationYour toddler is playing with Lego blocks and is tired of stacking.
Spoken Language
  • 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 you pretend and talking about it.  
  • You will also be exposing the child to some good language and listening models. 
Sign Language
  • 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 you pretend and talking about it.  
  • You will also be exposing the child to some good visual language models.