Kids and too much choice

With my two-year-old on my hip begging for ‘summat to eat’, I walk over to the fridge and open it.

I give her an abundance of options to satisfy her grumbling tummy – an apple, grapes, blueberries, a cheese stick.

We stand there for an age until she requests in a whiny voice, ‘summat in the cupboard’.

As my patience starts to wear thin, I move to the pantry where we stand there forever while I rattle off a myriad of choices for her – shapes, clock biscuits, Jatz, water crackers, cheese crackers, sultanas, Tiny Teddies. The list goes on.

And on we stand, deliberating. I continue to rehash the options as I hurry her along with, ‘Come on, I haven’t got all day’.

This dance around the pantry is a daily case of de ja vu. I become frustrated that Smiley can’t make a choice and she gets upset when I eventually make the choice for her.

‘That’s it! You’re having sultanas,’ I will announce as I snatch the sultanas off the shelf and put her down in a rush.

I offered her a choice and then took it away from her. No wonder she’s having a meltdown.

We then go to our plastics drawer, which I’ve purposely put at ground level so the kids can choose their own plate, bowl or cup.

I pull out the Peter Rabbit bowl and she has a dummy spit. She wants the blue Peter Rabbit bowl, not the beige one.

When Dave is home to witness these goings on, he can’t help but get frustrated with the situation. He doesn’t like seeing me at my wit’s end or the kids being demanding.

‘You can’t negotiate with terrorists,’ he will say jokingly.

‘Don’t ask them what they want. Just give them their food and their bowl and they have to eat what they’re given.’

As a child I ate what I was given, for the most part, and did what I was told. I don’t remember being given a mountain of options to choose from.

Is it because I don’t remember or because there just wasn’t that much choice?

These days there is so much choice. As an adult I can find it overwhelming at times. It’s no wonder children do too.

The way I see it, giving children choices helps them to learn. Even as an adult I am absolutely hopeless at making decisions. I want my children to be better at it than me.

I’m giving them some independence, empowering them, and giving them a little control. They are little individuals and I’m helping them to express what they want. I’m encouraging them to have opinions, to speak up, to be passionate about what they like and don’t like. I’m encouraging them to think for themselves and make good choices.

Perhaps, though, I have been going to the extreme with this notion. Perhaps I need to rethink the choices I give the kids and limit their options. I don’t need to offer them a choice for everything.

I think I’ve been guilty of giving them too much choice and causing them a little confusion and overwhelm.

I’m going to rethink what I give them choices on and cut back on the number of options.

The number of choices I present to my almost five-year-old will obviously be different to those I offer my two-year-old.

It’s all a learning game this parenting gig, isn’t it?! One day us parents will figure it out.

What’s your opinion on kids and choice? Do you allow your kids to choose what they eat, what they wear etc? How do things work in your house?

Linking up today with the effervescent Jess for IBOT.

61 comments on Kids and too much choice

  1. Lydia C. Lee
    March 17, 2015 at 5:42 am (4 years ago)

    I read a parenting book once that you should give 2 choices so they can choose (but you’ve okayed the choices). I’m now of the opinion you should just tell them how it is, what they can have and be done with it. When you offer the 2 choices, they just want something else anyway…I of course have not written a book or have any degrees in childrearing…I’m just tired and jaded, missing the tough love parenting of the ’70’s

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 5:56 am (4 years ago)

      Lol, Lydia. When you write that parenting book please let me know πŸ˜‰

  2. JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)
    March 17, 2015 at 6:22 am (4 years ago)

    I think we are definitely guilty of offering our little ones too much choice. They aren’t equipped to deal with it. I found it particularly hard with now Miss 6 when she was younger. After thinking it was creating independence offering her choice I soon realised it was doing her (and my sanity) too much damage. Once we reduced the choice of things to two, sometimes only one, there was a huge difference. Even today she still has issues with choosing. Lessen the choices I say!

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 5:57 am (4 years ago)

      Very interesting, Jodi. Thank you. It’s food for though.

  3. Erin
    March 17, 2015 at 6:27 am (4 years ago)

    Like you I like to empower and teach skills but as you are finding too many choices is overwhelming. I tend to limit choices these days to two, “Do you want peanut butter or vegemite?”
    But yes I know what you mean, when we were kids we ate what was on our plate, obviously our parents were probably better in the parenting stakes in this area than us. Though I do say to my children, “You eat what I serve up or you may have bread and butter” I do have to realise the chances of everyone being happy with each meal is slim, but truly sometimes you may hate something.

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 5:58 am (4 years ago)

      I’m thinking I may need to lessen the choices. The bread and butter option is a great idea. I will have to try that one. They’ll probably choose that every time πŸ™‚

  4. Bec @ History of Parenting
    March 17, 2015 at 7:02 am (4 years ago)

    I so so so agree!!! It really hit home to me when we went away for 2 weeks and didn’t have a fully stocked pantry to browse. When I said ‘banana or cracker, that’s all there is’ they learned that these were quite literally the only options. It was so much easier. #TeamIBOT

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 5:59 am (4 years ago)

      That’s great they accepted the change in number of options so easily. I think I will have to try reducing the options I give them.

  5. Ingrid @ Fabulous and Fun Life
    March 17, 2015 at 7:47 am (4 years ago)

    I think it is different with each child. When younger, one of my twins, I gave the choice of two outfits in the morning as otherwise I ended up with arguments and disgruntlement, the other just pulled things out of the wardrobe themselves and got dressed. My third child I just dressed in the outfit of my choice. Whatever works best for you and your child I say!

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:01 am (4 years ago)

      Lol. That’s interesting, Ingrid. Each child really is different. I can see some definite differences in my two, although Miss Five is obviously easier to deal with at the moment rather than the two year who is deep in the throes of the terrible twos.

  6. Dannielle
    March 17, 2015 at 8:18 am (4 years ago)

    We are up to number child number 3, what seems to work in our neck of the woods when it comes to food choices is packing our Miss 3 a lunchbox, even for a home day (I have been there in front of the fridge and pantry many a time, I feel your pain lovely), that way she can only choose from what’s in the box. Today it consists of a cheese and ham sandwich, strawberries, a banana, a mini hot cross bun (from Coles bakery), cheese and biscuits and a yoghurt plus her water drink bottle.
    As for clothing choices, don’t get me started but dresses are extremely popular, the more frills, bling and twirl factor the better regardless of the occasion, our first 2 were dressed by me but this number 3 Miss 3 of ours is a force to be reckoned with.
    Tell Dave I love his comment of not being able to negotiate with terrorists, it so feels like that some days!
    For the record I don’t remember being given the amount of choices our kidlets have these days.
    Once again Renee you have brought me some Mummy comfort in this post of yours, nice to know we are all travelling a similar journey, thank you xx

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:04 am (4 years ago)

      Thanks Danielle πŸ™‚ I think that’s a brilliant idea to pack the lunch box even though they are at home. That is a really clever idea. I’ll give that a go and see how that works. I find on the days we spend at home they want something to eat every five seconds!!! My eldest loves dresses too. She actually only owns one pair of shorts these days. She’s outgrown all of the others and refuses to wear any if I buy them. The youngest is a shorts and tee kind of gal. Aren’t they funny wee things πŸ™‚ xx

  7. Susan Tyler
    March 17, 2015 at 8:44 am (4 years ago)

    Dear Renee- I am withDave 100%- or at least narrow choices down to 2- terrorists come in all sizes(: one other thing I keep in my head- do not ask permission, rather – go ahead and do it then ask for forgiveness. This usually applies to a shopping spree for me!! I love reading about your dear family and what a great parent you really are- thanks for your wonderful blog, Susan

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:06 am (4 years ago)

      Thanks, Susan. That is some good advice. I told Dave what you said and he was beaming πŸ™‚ I think it’s definitely time to rethink my approach. I’ll let you know how I go πŸ™‚

  8. rachel_ourtownbrisbane
    March 17, 2015 at 9:02 am (4 years ago)

    I heard a saying from an American friend of my mum’s who’s been visiting recently…

    “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset”

    I wish i’d known this one years ago! It’s the kind of sing-songy rhyme kids love and it gets them into the idea of taking what they’re given and not making a fuss. It would work especially well with the endless debates about which cup or plate they get (this does eventually pass believe me!).

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:07 am (4 years ago)

      Rachel, I love this! I’m definitely adopting it as my own. It will appeal to the kids for sure. Thank you!

  9. Jody at Six Little Hearts
    March 17, 2015 at 9:31 am (4 years ago)

    I think the best thing to do is offer a choice of two things only, that way kids are not overwhelmed with choices. The only thing worse than food choices, is a visit to the toy store with some cash to spend…kill me now!

  10. Josefa
    March 17, 2015 at 10:42 am (4 years ago)

    Renee this is a very interesting topic you raise, I love it. I’m not jumping on any side of the fence for this one because I think there can be room for both in the way we parent: plenty of choice and limited choice. I think it can only depend on the situation and circumstance. No choice all the time, I can’t say that is an attractive option for me, let alone an attractive option for the two people I love the most- my boys. Hang in there, toddler tantrums over choice is only a phase – pretty soon she will be well and truly telling you what she wants, when she wants it and how πŸ˜‰

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:09 am (4 years ago)

      Thanks Josefa πŸ™‚ Yes, I still want to give the kids choice, but I think I will reduce the number of options. Hanging in there with the demanding twos. I’ll get there πŸ™‚ x

  11. Caitlin
    March 17, 2015 at 11:21 am (4 years ago)

    This is such a real issue when parenting. It’s amazing how draining a fight over a plate colour can be. I’ve been guilty of giving too much choice too and then get a big kick up the butt during a parenting seminar and tried to limit it more. Even still, I think there is room for limited choice rather than no choice at all. Kind of, you can have the blue or green. No, not the pink, that isn’t being offered. Then there are times that I do give them no choice, because in life we don’t always get to choose and they need to be able to handle disappointment graciously. All the best. I know when you start a ‘crackdown’ it’s such hard work at first! Good luck persisting through the first week! That’s always the worst.

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:11 am (4 years ago)

      Thanks for your support and encouragement, Caitlin. I’m dreading introducing a change to what has always been, but hopefully they’ll come around soon enough x

  12. Elisha Ross
    March 17, 2015 at 11:24 am (4 years ago)

    I tend to give a few options. Not many. I honestly don’t have a lot to offer them other than fruit and sandwiches and the odd teddy bear biscuit. 1/2 the time I can predict exactly what they want to eat anyway. Watermelon and Weetbix is the go here of late. They could eat it all day long. Two options is plenty and if they are hungry enough they will eat it. I also leave a grazing plate of fruit, sultanas and cheese and that works a treat too. They can leave it or eat it. No arguments there…Why they are so fussy with the plates and spoons etc I will never know either….The joys. I always thought blue bowls made the food taste better myself!! he he

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:12 am (4 years ago)

      Lol! I do a grazing plate also and that is always a winner. Thanks for your advice, Elisha. I’ll give it a go.

  13. lisa heidke
    March 17, 2015 at 11:29 am (4 years ago)

    Hi Renee, your post brings back memories…many frustrating, hair-pulling-out memories.
    In the deepest recesses of my mind, I do remember giving the kids choices when they were little – food, clothing, video choices – but they were limited. ‘Do you want to watch Hi5 or Thomas?’ ‘Do want cheese or vegemite or both?’ Then I’d bring out the egg timer and say ‘You have three minutes to decide or I’ll decide for you.’ Invariably, it let to tantrums but they soon wised up…

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:13 am (4 years ago)

      Love the egg timer idea, Lisa!!! Where can I get my hands on one? πŸ™‚ I can see this will cause a stir with the kids lol. Thank you.

  14. Natalie @ our parallel connection
    March 17, 2015 at 1:38 pm (4 years ago)

    At least when your kids get older, they make some of these decisions themselves… Less pressure to keep them happy.

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:13 am (4 years ago)

      True, Natalie. I am already seeing signs of this with my eldest.

  15. Kathy
    March 17, 2015 at 1:45 pm (4 years ago)

    Renee – So relate to this with Little Yang and I am putting my foot down, especially now packed lunches are involved. I give a choice on fruit but that’s it.

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:14 am (4 years ago)

      Good on you, Kathy. It will be interesting to see how I go. I’ll keep you posted.

  16. EssentiallyJess
    March 17, 2015 at 1:52 pm (4 years ago)

    I think lots of thoughts here, but I don’t want to write an essay!
    I have one who will spend an hour looking through the fridge if I let her, and it has made us late for school, when she can’t decide what item to have from the snack box. I think some choice is good. Maybe a choice of two things, and possibly a time limit set to it, if they take forever. But you have to be willing to just keep it those two choices, and not the third one they will always make up.
    I also think kids need to learn that at times you don’t get a choice, and you have to be able to cope with that.

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:16 am (4 years ago)

      Great advice, Jess. Thank you. I hadn’t thought of timing their choice until someone else suggested it just now. Something to think about for sure.

  17. Toni @ Finding Myself Young
    March 17, 2015 at 2:14 pm (4 years ago)

    I started introducing choices to Hayley as soon as possible.Sometimes its what she wants to have for a snack or what clothes she wants to wear. The way I do it though is to only give her 2 options so she has a choice but just has to point to which one she wants so its not too overwhelming. She also doesnt talk much yet but shes got pointing and nodding yes down pat so it works.

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:17 am (4 years ago)

      I think I missed the memo on only giving kids two choices. Everyone seems to do this except me lol.

  18. [email protected]
    March 17, 2015 at 2:15 pm (4 years ago)

    I agree with the two approved choices option. Saves time, stress and tension. My eldest is a shocker with decisions, so we came to that realisation fairly early on.

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:18 am (4 years ago)

      I’m definitely going to have to experiment now with a reduction in options. Thank you πŸ™‚

  19. Eva @ The Multitasking Mummy
    March 17, 2015 at 4:17 pm (4 years ago)

    Do you know what, I’ve been doing exactly the same as you, with Elliott. It was only last night that I did the same and wondered to myself if I was in fact giving him too many options every day….what do you want to do today, what do you want to eat, what do you want to watch…etc. etc. I think I’m going to pull back on the choices for a bit and when it comes to things like lunch and dinner, he will get what we are having. Although, this is a bit easier said then done with a very fussy eater!

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:19 am (4 years ago)

      Thank you, Eva! I was starting to wonder if I was the only one giving an abundance of choice. It’s all a learning curve. I’m interested to try a reduction in choice with my girls πŸ™‚

  20. Sarah @She Writes
    March 17, 2015 at 4:19 pm (4 years ago)

    I give mine an option of 3, otherwise a decision will never be made, they take after their father! I do agree with your hubby though about negotiating with terrorists. πŸ™‚

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:20 am (4 years ago)

      I think three might be a good number to start with my girls. It will be a shock to their system πŸ™‚

  21. Malinda @mybrownpaperpackages
    March 17, 2015 at 6:01 pm (4 years ago)

    You’re right, I don’t remember getting a choice when I was little, I just ate whatever I was given. Now, I give my kids the choice, probably too much so, but I have gone so far down the track now that I can’t take it back.

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:21 am (4 years ago)

      That’s what I worry about too, Malinda :/

  22. Lisa
    March 17, 2015 at 6:06 pm (4 years ago)

    Hmmm, an interesting topic Renee. I think when kids are young, it is important to limit the choices to 2-3 maximum, as they get older you can introduce other options. I never got a choice when I was little either.
    If I give my kids too much choice the entitlement issues arise.
    I do believe you can make changes to guide choice no matter the age, it is all about being consistent and being disciplined. The older kids (tweens & teens) you may have to approach change & choice in a different way to motivate them to stay with those changes.

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:22 am (4 years ago)

      Always so wise, Lisa. Thank you. All of these comments have given me great food for thought.

  23. DruimΓ©@SnippetsandSpirits
    March 17, 2015 at 10:49 pm (4 years ago)

    It sure is a learning game a never ending one. I know all about standing in the cupboard looking for ‘someting eat ‘. It is normally on a day when there is no food in the house. I try and keep it to two choices if they cant decide then its nothing! Good luck Renee x

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:24 am (4 years ago)

      Thanks Druime! I think I’ll need it πŸ™‚

  24. Tash @ Gift Grapevine
    March 18, 2015 at 1:12 am (4 years ago)

    I had to giggle at those opening paragraphs – it’s exactly what it’s like with my tornadoes. When we are out and about they don’t get a choice but at home they will stand in front of the fridge/pantry for ages. I always planned to only provide two options but the more they learn the exact contents of the fridge/pantry, the more they can request and point to all the options. Smart little things! I’m good when it comes to main meals but for snacks, I will admit I currently offer too many options. Wishing you lots of luck – raising toddlers is one tough gig. It’s like a mix of laughing at how adorable they are and hitting your head against a brick wall πŸ™‚

    • Mummy, Wife, Me
      March 18, 2015 at 6:25 am (4 years ago)

      Yes, exactly like that!! Yep, the snacks are what I struggle with too. Ahh well. We’ll see how we go πŸ™‚ xx

  25. Maxabella
    March 18, 2015 at 10:36 am (4 years ago)

    My middle is PARALYSED by too much choice, and I think she is onto something. By narrowing her choices down to just one or two, we are helping her to have some control but not be too overwhelmed and not spend too much time deciding. I think all kids benefit from that. x

  26. Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me
    March 18, 2015 at 11:46 am (4 years ago)

    I realised that a few years ago and now they get 2 options. But back in the day I too used to give WAY too many options. At least you’ve realised before it’s too late!

  27. Peachy Keen Mumma - Jess
    March 18, 2015 at 12:50 pm (4 years ago)

    I grew up in a family of 8 kids so there wasn’t a lot of choice. I handle regular decision making quite well. Hmmm. You have me stumped. I haven’t thought this through. I guess I think my son should eat what I put in front of him. Those are his options. hmm…now I can’t decide. haha

  28. Denise
    March 18, 2015 at 1:11 pm (4 years ago)

    I definitely agree with giving them a choice, but I read somewhere that it should be limited to two or three options which makes sense I guess. Then again my son is only two so I haven’t a clue really. Most of the time he doesn’t know what he wants from one minute to the next. Typical toddler!

  29. Bec @ The Plumbette
    March 18, 2015 at 2:18 pm (4 years ago)

    Do you live my life? I so relate to this! I do believe we give them more choices than what we had available when we were little. But i want my girls to make decisions and like you learn the freedom of making a choice. With food I now only give 3 suggestions as opposed to what is available in the pantry.

  30. Janet aka Middle Aged Mama
    March 19, 2015 at 8:57 pm (4 years ago)

    OH how I used to hate the dreaded “hungries”! Actually come to think of it Mr 20 still does that and asks me what’s to eat … when I still worked in an office he used to ring me at work after school and ask me what’s to eat and I’d be like “I don’t know I’m at work why don’t you actually LOOK IN THE PANTRY/FRIDGE/FREEZER!!!!” It’s just laziness on his part, what he really means is MAKE ME SOMETHING MUM! Miss 18 was always very good at whipping up something herself. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that she was the one independent enough to move out first!

  31. Tonia Zemek
    March 20, 2015 at 3:03 pm (4 years ago)

    I know what you mean. Last weekend I was at the supermarket sans list. I literally did two blocks of the ENTIRE SUPERMARKET and still didn’t know what I felt like. Went out for coffee instead. Some days I just can’t decide!

  32. Neets
    March 20, 2015 at 9:05 pm (4 years ago)

    Great post Renee. I think that children definitely have too much choice. I’m like you, I really struggle with making decisions for myself. It frustrates me. I always need reassurance. With food in my house, they don’t get much of a choice. My standad line is “this is not a restaurant, you get what you’re given”. As for what my kids wear. J will wear a hessian bag if I gave it to him. Miss H on the other hand, I have NO choice in what she wears. Take today for example. She wore a see through black tutu with a purple shirt, orange socks & white lady janes to her brothers school pick up. (Roll eyes). I can’t be bothered arguing anymore. Xxx

  33. Vicki @ Knocked Up and Abroad
    March 20, 2015 at 9:26 pm (4 years ago)

    Oh I know right?!?! This whole offering food and nothing being good enough drives me bonkers. If I want to make my life easier, I just serve up something and it saves all the deliberation and they eat it without a thought of protest and yet I don’t always do this. Why do I give them the choices more often than not? I don’t recall having to make such choices as a kid. It was just whatever mum said. I think limiting the choice must be the way to go. Thanks for putting up an interesting topic for contemplation x

  34. Emily
    March 21, 2015 at 9:09 am (4 years ago)

    For most things I offer two or three choices. But when it comes to getting dressed every day, A has full run of her wardrobe. She always have very specific ideas of what she wants to wear, and I stay out of the way. But yep, definitely with food it’s a choice of things. And sometimes with toys/entertainment options too, which is more about placating both kids than limited their choices.

  35. Tegan
    March 21, 2015 at 7:07 pm (4 years ago)

    My partner, his daughter and her partner were talking about this recently. The men were both firmly in the camp of ‘just pick something and be done with it.’ Whereas his daughter and I were in the choice camp, although we do limit the choices. With outfits when he were are going somewhere nice for example two or three shirts are picked and the kids are given a choice and the same for the pants. Or dresses for girls. It makes things a lot easier because it does limit the umm and ahhing in front of the choices!

  36. Zanni
    March 23, 2015 at 6:24 pm (4 years ago)

    You are totally tapping into the bane of my existence at the moment. With two girls, my hell is standing in front of their clothes cupboards. After sometimes hours or deliberations, and occasionally meltdowns, they still sometimes don’t know what to wear. I really had to intervene with my oldest. I had to set limits for her, as it was making both of us crazy. I said, you have one minute to choose, and then if you can’t, I will. She’s sped up since then. Or I get two options out for her, and she’ll pick the one she prefers. It’s kind of better at the moment, but my gosh, it tested me.

  37. Sheridan Anne
    March 24, 2015 at 9:00 am (4 years ago)

    Yes!!!! I always try to provide my boys with the opportunity to choose but often have to move them along and Mr 8 often ends up having food or drink regret (most likely from my rushing his decision). And at breakfast time hubby just says, you can have cereal or toast, pick one now, or starve!
    You’re right. It probably is a little much for their little minds to decide upon, but I really want them to choose things like that for themselves, especially because my boys are much older. Specific to food, I want them to learn how to choose healthier options too!
    Fab post, hope you don’t have the great food debate today xox


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