Parenting Hack: The Would You Rather Game

Life is full of choices. I, for one, tend to get overwhelmed quickly with the array on offer. For starters, do we really need 40 different shades of white to choose from at the paint store? (I’m sure I’m grossly underestimating that number.)

While in many contexts, choice can elicit anxiety (like an overwhelming paint display), choice is also critical for development and positive growth.

In the realm of parenting, choice can feel like a double-edged sword. We want our children to feel autonomy when appropriate, but how and where to fit that in can be challenging to determine. It’s also a moving target as kids age and their sphere expands.

I’m not claiming to have done this perfectly (or even well) when my kiddos were younger, but a bit like my thoughts last week about giving choices that are mutually agreeable, I tried to make that a reality even when they were little. Instead of open-ended questions like: “What colour plate do you want at breakfast?” – which would surely have taken a month of Sundays for them to reach a decision on – I might ask: “Do you want the blue plate or the red plate?”

I find myself still doing this as they age, though now they get their own plates – which are an unknown shade of white – from the cupboard themselves.

An iteration of this idea materializes in the form of one of our favourite family games.

I have a low tolerance for board games; I can manage Sorry, UNO, Codenames, Crokinole (and Mastermind if I’m in a particularly good mood), and that’s enough for me. But because we walk so much as a family – and it’s not really easy to play UNO on the go – we’ve had to come up with some verbal games, too.

Our “Would-You-Rather Game” is a very popular choice; in fact last Saturday Abby and I played this for 52 minutes (yes, I timed it) while walking.

We came up with questions like:

  • Would you rather be sprayed by a skunk or would you rather hug a porcupine?
  • Would you rather be able to read people’s thoughts or would you rather be able to teleport?
  • Would you rather cycle through wearing your favourite 2 outfits for a year (and nothing else) or would you rather have someone else pick a new outfit each day but, love it or hate it, you’d have to wear it?
  • Would you rather skip the Christmas holiday or would you rather skip all the other holidays – including your birthday – but be able to celebrate Christmas.
  • Would you rather meet Hermoine from Harry Potter or would you rather meet Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings?

We’ve done this game in different ways; sharing the same questions or, on this most recent walk, I spent about 25 minutes asking questions and then Abby reciprocated for the same amount of time asking a whole other set of questions. While it can be relatively mindless (I can just ask dessert Would You Rather’s and the kids are happy), it doesn’t have to be and we’ve posed some tough philosophical questions this way too. I’m able to stay engaged and I find it tolerable/bordering on fun.

Mileage may vary by family but, for us, it has been a great way to fill many, many miles.

P.S. If you’re interested in reading more about “choice” Barry Schwartz’s book The Paradox of Choice is an interesting deep-dive into this topic.

P.P.S. I blogged about another way to help with decisions: Parenting Hack: Flip a Coin

What about you – skunk or porcupine (I was team skunk; pain is not. my. thing)? And clearly teleporting is the only right answer because reading people’s thoughts sounds like torture…Abby chose Christmas, Hermione, and 2 favourite outfits.

Also, anyone else get anxious when browsing the white paint options? I gave up in despair and told our painter to choose – I think we ended up with the decidedly basic (and unmistakably white) “Decorator’s White.” If you are someone who understands and appreciates all the “undertone” talk, good on ya’…but I cannot relate.

Header photo by Ana Municio on Unsplash

24 thoughts on “Parenting Hack: The Would You Rather Game”

  1. Ha! The paint made me laugh out loud! It reminded me of many years ago…We had been living in the mountains in Spain, frequenting the same little supermarket every week for our food staples. We had everything we needed in that little store—never wanted for a thing! And then we returned to the UK and I remember standing in the cereal aisle for, like, an hour. I was totally blown away by how.many.cereals were available. Every day we are bombarded with so much choice and it’s overwhelming. I choose to stay away from supermarkets as much as possible (😆) but of course, encouraging our children to explore and weigh choices, is an important part of development. I play this game all the time with my family!!! And in light of your questions, I would say I’m most definitely a porcupine…I don’t know why, something just tells me they need a hug!

    1. Grocery stores are so overwhelming. I try to shop within our town and sometimes people will comment on the limited options at our smaller grocery store. For me it’s perfect.
      Awww. What a great answer about the porcupine; I haven’t even thought of that. Maybe that’s what Abby was trying to get at. I immediately thought of pain vs. smell, without considering what the poor little animals might have been needing. I’ll also admit that porcupines are often some of the sweetest characters in children’s pictures books.

  2. The one “game” we play a lot when driving in the car is the “Alphabet game”, where you each have to find something outside of the vehicle that starts with each letter, starting with A to Z. Once everyone finds something, you can move on to the next letter. (So like, A…. Airplane! Amtrak train! etc… B…. Bulldozer! Bird!). It’s pretty fun, but depends a bit on where you’re driving! Lol! From our house to my parent’s house, there is a fairly wide open stretch where it’s just….farm fields. Works okay for “grass” and “fence” and “barn” and “cow”, but not so great for….Q. Or X. hahaha!

    1. This is the other main game we play! We call it the A to Z game and we almost always pick a category. Like: A to Z Christmas, for A to Z Desserts, Sports, Birthday, Names (this is where we started; there are only so many Q names – Quinn, Quaid, Quincey)…

  3. I would definitely hug a porcupine because I ADORE porcupines. They are one of my favorite animals. Clearly, the porcupine would sense my adoration and would not ruffle its quills at me.

    The questions you came up with are awesome! I have definitely played this game with my kiddo many times. It’s especially good on bus rides when I’ve chaperoned field trips. Sometimes I find coming up with questions extremely tedious though — but maybe I need to be thinking outside the box more!

    1. Some days I put a lot more mental energy into coming up with good questions and I definitely don’t usually last for 50 minutes! But I find picking some major categories: Harry Potter, desserts, animals, holidays…and cycling around those a few dozen times generally does the trick. Or I’ll think about skills: would you rather be able to fly or breathe underwater. Those questions often set their mind whirling for a few minutes which means I have to come up with fewer questions.
      Oh and questions about fictional characters: who would you rather go on a trip with – Maria von Trapp or Mary Poppins.
      And the A to Z or Alphabet Game @GratefulKae mentioned is the other favourite game.
      And Top 5 lists. We rank the: Top 5 places you want to visit. Top 5 favourite desserts (again with the desserts; sigh). Top 5 favourite movies. That’s a fun one, too.

  4. Ha, well let me tell you, it’s really hard to get rid of the skunk smell. Luckily I don’t know this from experience, but that’s what I’ve heard. So you might want to hug that porcupine.
    I think this is a great game, and I’ve gotten “would you rather” books for the kids as gifts before. But making up your own questions is definitely better! Oh and I do know what you mean about the paint- for those of us who aren’t interior decorators, the choices are overwhelming! It’s funny because I was just thinking about this because I want to re-paint our baseboards (white) and I was kind of dreading going to the paint store.

    1. I can almost understand all the shades of yellow or blue…but white? The white always gets me. In the end, like I said, I just had the painter choose.
      In real life I’d pick neither the skunk NOR the porcupine, but that’s one the rules of the game. You HAVE to pick on of the options.

  5. One of my friend’s lived for a couple of years in Finland. He was without a car when he came back, so I took him to the grocery store to stock up. He stared at the cereal aisle in true dismay – “why are there SO many?” he cried as if this were the worst problem he’d ever faced. Too many choices definitely leads to choice paralysis for me! I’d definitely rather just have two or three solid options and know that whatever choice I make will be good enough.

    1. Exactly! I don’t mind having only a few choices. Then it seems obvious. Granola, bran, or sugary cereal – one of each and then you just pick the one you want. But there are, literally, a dozen choices for JUST granola at even our small little grocery store.
      I’m a nightmare eating out because I find the menu choices so daunting. I prefer to just eat at the same places over and over again and order the same things. To some people that would be boring, I guess? I just can’t imagine ENJOYING that range of choice.
      So it’s not the choice that the issue, per se, it’s the quantity of choices.

  6. I went down a rabbit hole of paint color analysis several years ago when I tried to select a neutral color for our main and upper level walls. It was dizzying! All the discuss of undertones and how much light and blah blah blah. I read so many blog posts and then bought 3 different grays and painted squares all over various parts of the house in early Feb 2020, thinking we’d hire a painter soon. Well we ended up living w/ all those painted squares of color much longer than we thought we would since the pandemic hit and bringing in a team of painters was not going to happen! But we were very sure about our color decision when we finally had a team come in August while we were at my parents! Let’s see, I’d actually choose porcupine because that stink could really stay with you! And I think I have a decent tolerance for pain, I’d for sure teleport, wear the same 2 outfits, and celebrate Christmas. I can not weigh in on the last one because I’ve never read or seen Lord of the Rings!!

    We definitely use choices strategically for the 4yo. It can really move things along and give them agency! Paul is probably ready to play this game so I will have to try it in he car and see if he understands the concept. What I tried recently was telling a story together, so I’d say “once upon a time there was a little boy named” and then I’d have him take over. We’d each add about a sentence. It was pretty fun to see what we came up with!

    1. I spent MONTHS researching grays for our basement and when I saw the final product (Cement Gray by BM) the first thing out of my mouth was: “It’s purple.” All that time, to only see the purple undertones. It has grown on me and it’s fine, but still. And I had an accent wall painted a slighter darker shade of gray (from the same “family”) and you literally can’t tell it’s darker…I should have gone several shades darker. Sigh. And I considered so many whites for trim in the basement (I spent HOURS online looking at real-world examples of these paint colours in action). It was such a waste of time as, again, the painter just ended up going with a standard white. And it was fine…

      I love your story prompt idea! We have been doing a version of Who, What, When, Where, Why. You write an answer to the top question (Who), then fold that down and pass it along to the next person playing and they answer “What” and then by the end you have a mishmash story because no one can tell what the other person has written. It’s a bit like MadLibs which Abby ADORES!

      1. Who, I love the who/what/when/where/why idea! Will have to remember that when Paul is older!

        I went through the same issue w/ a gray we selected for our last house which ended up looking green!! I can’t remember the name of the color but it was also a BM gray color that had been raved about! Again it was “fine” but I was not expecting such a greenish gray. Apparently gray is one of the hardest colors to get right. We used a different gray in Will’s nursery and I absolutely love it. But chances are it would look completely different in a room w/ different sun exposure!

        1. Even in different lighting in the same room the colour changes. We have Pale Oak (a grey) in our living/dining room and it looks SO different at different times of the day and if it’s sunny/cloudy. Thankfully I like all the different iterations, but paint colours are…interesting.

  7. … Unless you have a toddler. When I ask, “do you want to wear the blue pants or the pink pants,” the answer is “no” half the time. The other half the time, unfortunately, it is “Duck Suit”.

    1. You speak truth *facepalm*
      It’s not foolproof, that’s for sure.
      Now the kids dress themselves and I try to be okay with the selections!

  8. Another fun conversation and great continuation of that in the comments!
    PAINT! We moved 2 and a half years ago and I decided to paint our whole main floor grey and went down the rabbit hole of SO MANY options. The under tones, the impact of different lighting in the rooms and different brands. Matte, egg shell.. AGH! That is definitely not my wheel house. I did manage to pick on that I like. A light shade in a lower level area that is darker and a darker shade in rooms with lots of light. Ultimately I lucked out with the under tone!

    Another game we play is naming animals (or towns if you are travelling). You name an animal: i.e. Ape and then the next person has to name an animal that starts with the last letter. So next would be e and so on. It can get hard if too many of them are chosen that end in e. It gets easier as you play it more.

    For me: hug a porcupine (I’m sensitive to smell!), teleport (to somewhere without snow right now!), two outfits, skip Christmas, and Hermoine!
    My son couldn’t care a less about what he wears. My daughter needed more control over that. I loved the crazy outfits she would wear when she was little.

    I do would your rather (I also do this or that) with my college students. I’m still teaching online (now over 2 years, sigh). I have much less issue with them coming late to online class because they don’t want to miss these at the start of class!

    1. Not to be stymied by the “purple” gray downstairs, I went for a gray in our main living/dining room upstairs in Pale Oak (which is technically a gray). I LOVE this colour, but it looks so different in different lighting situations. It definitely has beige undertones, but it’s a very warm neutral…but never really looks “gray” to me. And I forgot to even touch on the different sheens. Definitely not my forte!
      The animal game sounds fun! I’ll try to remember to pull this one out on our next family walk and surprise the kiddos with something new.
      Christmas is our favourite holiday and could never be skipped in this household (I basically skip everything else other than Easter, birthdays, and Halloween (and if I didn’t have kids I would 100% skip Halloween).
      That’s so fun that you do Would You Rather with your students AND that it deters them from being tardy.

    1. Definitely applicable for adults, too! And could be a useful tool to “know yourself better” as Gretchen Rubin puts it. I know there are some great books for adults that do post these sorts of questions!

  9. I think “Would you rather”-games are a perfect way to entertain AND teach children something about choice and options, even if you practice with hypotheticals (because really do I HAVE to decide between Christmas and my birthday?)

    Ok, I am 100% team teleportation, because that is the ONE thing that would make living far away from people that are dear to me 100% more bearable.

  10. What an AWESOME idea! I love this! I love how it makes you think and really consider what you would choose and – perhaps more interesting – why! Do you ever follow up to ask why, or is it fairly obvious?

    We played the alphabet game (or the A to Z game, as you call it) but the letters had to come from outside the car. No cheating and using the “Chevrolet” on the dash for “v”. 🙂 But on the way to my mother’s family members’ homes (mostly in the next county over) there WAS a Quality Inn (I believe these no longer exist…). So you tried to time your way through the alphabet so as to hit on “Q” when we were driving by that exit. 🙂

    Team teleport all the way. I mean, really, that’s not a choice. Also, Hermione, 2 outfits, and can I just skip all the holidays, please?

    1. I could skip everything but Easter and Christmas without a second thought!
      We do talk through the why a lot of the time (or debate different pros/cons before we reach a decision)!

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