Giving children the opportunity to make a choice does wonders to their self-esteem
“Oh no,” my young student groaned, looking at the worksheet with about 50 sentences in a grammar exercise. “I can’t do so many sentences, ma’am!” I reassured her saying she didn’t have to complete them in one class. I asked her to choose the number of sentences she wanted to complete and mark the number with a dot. After some contemplation, she placed the dot at number 20. I agreed and asked her to proceed. She reached her designated mark and said, “Ma’am, I think I’ll do some more,” and went on to 30. Giving her the opportunity to make a choice did the trick!
Allowing children to make choices, rather than ordering them to perform a task is often a more congenial method of getting kids to do their work. Being given the privilege of choosing between two options gives them a feeling of agency. It makes the problem easier to solve for both the adult and the child.
Choices can be presented to children in any sphere of life. For instance, time allotted for watching television can be 60 or 80 minutes, with a choice between two favourite programmes. The programmes can be alternated between three days for one and three days for the other, the choice of days being again left to the child. When two subjects have to be studied, he can choose which one he wants to do first. It is good to make it clear at the start that both subjects have to be done. At snack time, you have decided to make a sandwich. The child can be given a choice between peanut butter and jelly or cheese and tomato. When faced with the daunting task of selecting a birthday dress, you can pick out a few that fall comfortably within your budget and give your child the privilege of selecting the final dress.
Making choices gives a child the impression that his opinion matters and thus does wonders to his self-esteem. It gives him an opportunity to think and reason, and this ability stands him in good stead all through life. One needs to make crucial decisions at one time or another, and honing one’s decision-making skills will have a positive outcome.
Lastly, it is essential to make it very clear to the child, right at the beginning, what our expectations are regarding the tasks to be accomplished. The path he chooses can be left to him to work out. For instance, in a Math test paper with problems of different kinds, the child can select the order of solving them. As adults, we don’t have to be very rigid. A certain amount of flexibility does not hurt either of us, as long as the task is completed. Being democratic while dealing with children is today’s formula for success for parents and teachers alike.
(The writer is a special educator)