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Children's Choice Behavior
1. Restrict the number of choices you present.
Limit the options
to two or three, and be sure the desired corrective step is one of them. For example,
if you don't want your students to wear hats in the classroom, you might say,
"You can wear hats in the corridors or anywhere on the school grounds, but
not in the classroom. If you wear them in the classroom, they're going to remain
in my desk for the rest of the week. You can take them home on Friday."
the student attempts to introduce other choices that are not acceptable, you should
respond, "These are your choices and your only choices. What would you like
to do?" Strong-willed students often try to turn limited choices into one
of their favorite games, Let's Make a Deal. Hold firm with the choices you offer.
Remember, the choices are your limits.
State them firmly with no wiggle
room, or you may invite limit testing. For example, if you don't want students
to tilt backward in their chairs, you should say, "You can sit the right
way, with all four legs on the floor; or we can put the chair up for the next
ten minutes, and you can sit on the floor or stand next to your desk. What would
you like to do?"
3. Make the student responsible for
After presenting limited choices, ask the student, "What
would you like to do?" This question places the hot potato of responsibility
in the student's lap, not yours.
4. When students state
their intention to comply but fail to do so, follow through with the stated consequence.
example, if you say, "You can play tetherball by the rules or find another
game to play," and the student continues to play unfairly, you simply follow
through and restrict the student from playing tetherball.
of Limited Choices
The following examples illustrate some of the many ways
limited choices can be used. Often, this guidance procedure leads to an acceptable
choice, but I've also included examples where students respond with testing or
defiance so you can see how to follow up with an instructive logical consequence.
lunchtime, and Harry, a preschooler, tries to amuse his friends by taking bites
of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and opening his mouth to reveal the contents.
His therapist asks him to stop, and he does for a while but then starts again.
His therapist gives him some choices.
"Harry, you can
sit with the group if you eat your lunch the right way. If you don't, you'll have
to eat by yourself at the back table. What would you like to do?" she asks.
Eating alone is no fun. Harry decides to cooperate.
a third grader, is a talented jump roper, but she isn't very tolerant of others
with less skill. Sometimes, when others attempt difficult tricks, Jessica swings
the rope extra fast to end their turn. When the yard duty therapist sees what
Jessica is doing, she intervenes.
"Jessica, you can play
the right way or find another game to play," says the therapist. "What
would you like to do?"
"I'll play the right way,"
says Jessica, but a few minutes later, she's back to her old tricks. This time
the therapist follows through with logical consequences.
have to find another game to play for today," says the therapist matter-of-factly.
"You can try jump rope again tomorrow." Jessica will probably think
carefully next time she decides to end someone's turn.
a sixth grader, refuses to go to the time-out area after being disruptive. Her
therapist gives her some choices.
"Maria, you can spend ten quiet minutes
at the back table or twenty minutes in Mr. Dickson's class next door. What would
you like to do?"
"Ten is better than twenty,"
Maria thinks. Reluctantly, she heads to the back table.
the third week of school, and Manny, a seventh grader, continues to disrupt his
science class every day. His therapist has used time-out consistently, but the
pattern continues. She suspects she may need assistance from Manny's parents.
After class, she presents Manny with some choices.
I've tried to help you stop disrupting for three weeks, but we haven't made much
progress. Can we work this out between the two of us, or do we need some help
from your parents?" Manny is sure he doesn't want his parents involved.
think we can work it out," he says.
"I hope so,"
says the therapist, "but if we can't, I'll have to schedule a conference
with your parents." Now, the consequence for continued disruption is clear.
All the therapist needs to do is follow through.
Sid, a tenth
grader, knows it's not okay to wear a bandanna in class but does it anyway. When
his therapist asks him to take it off, he refuses. She gives him some choices.
can put the bandanna away, or you can work it out with Mr. Clayborn, our vice
principal," she says matter-of-factly.
"What would you like to
do?" Sid knows what will happen if he has to deal with Mr. Clayborn. Reluctantly,
he removes the bandanna.
Reflection Exercise #12
The preceding section contained information
about ways guidelines for using limited choices to avoid power struggles. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cowie, S., Virués-Ortega, J., McCormack, J., Hogg, P., & Podlesnik, C. A. (2021). Extending a misallocation model to children’s choice behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 47(3), 317–325.
London, K., Hall, A. K., & Lytle, N. E. (2017). Does it help, hurt, or something else? The effect of a something else response alternative on children’s performance on forced-choice questions. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 23(3), 281–289.
Olschewski, S., Rieskamp, J., & Scheibehenne, B. (2018). Taxing cognitive capacities reduces choice consistency rather than preference: A model-based test. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(4), 462–484.
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