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.