Rosie to the Rescue: The Right Number of Choices to Give Toddlers

Pope FamilyEvery week, Rosie Pope, star of Bravo’s “Pregnant in Heels,” will be blogging for! 

If there’s something I’m sure of after having three kids, it’s that as soon as I think I have something sorted out, things change, and I have to figure it out all over again! It’s amazing how these wee people can at times completely flummox us, especially when it comes to disciplining them and getting them to do something that they simply do not want to do. Like eating dinner.

For the most part, I pride myself on explaining to my children the importance of listening to me, and that I don’t ask them to eat their greens just because I feel like being mean! But I was having a particularly hard time with my eldest and food, and as I sat back to think about how to better handle the situation, I realized just how many choices I had been giving him, without realizing it. Do you want cheese on your pasta, or to the side? Do you want milk or water? Do you want to sit in this chair, or that one? Do you want the blue spoon or the red one? While I was trying to make things “just right” for my son to eat, I was overwhelming him with choices. So when the pasta was not exactly the right shape, at exactly the right temperature, on the exact right plate, let me just say it was not good!

Lying on my couch feeling defeated, worried, and very full (I kept eating large quantities of food to try and set a good example; let’s just say I was consuming far more than he was), I realized there’s a vital rule of toddler parenting that I needed to apply to this situation just as to any other:

Only ever give two choices. Yes, choices help children feel empowered, which is important. But presenting too many overwhelms toddlers. Children should be allowed to understand the difference between good choices and bad choices. The magic total number of decisions kids get to make, in our home, is two.

With that strategy, we were soon back to eating a peaceful dinner. And of course there’s one other thing that helps toddlers, and that’s never “too many:” your hugs and kisses!

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  1. [...] The point of the food challenge is to introduce your kids to new flavors—without the stress of having to eat them at the table. You might also try giving them a little control over what they eat so they feel empowered. I give my kids one choice per meal, like asking if they’d prefer broccoli or carrots, sincemore than one choice can be overwhelming. [...]