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Choose. Decide. Pick: Language That Builds Cooperation, or Not?

Q: I came across this in my son's school newsletter and found it very interesting. It is from Chuck Moorman's book, Parent Talk: How to Talk to Your Children in Language that Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility. I wonder what you think of this idea?

"Choose. Decide. Pick"

If you want to help your children see themselves as responsible for their own behaviour, add these three special words, choose, decide and pick to your parent talk. Many children don't know that they pick how they act or realize that they choose their own attitudes and behaviours.

Choose, decide and pick are words you can purposefully fit into your parent talk to put responsibility back on your child's shoulders. "If you choose to leave your toys here, you'll be choosing to have them put on the shelf for a week" communicates to your son that you are not responsible for whether or not he has his toys to play with next week. He is.

The phrase "If you choose to have your chores completed by two o'clock, I'll take you to the mall" helps your daughter see that she is in control of going to the mall or not. Other examples include: "When you decide to return the car with the gas tank empty, you choose not to use the car during the following weekend". "When you pick whining, I don't respond favourably". "I got a call from the principal today. Apparently you chose an interesting response when the substitute teacher was there". Repetition is key. It takes many exposures to these words for self-responsibility before children really figure out that you are not doing to them, they are choosing for themselves what their own actions and reactions are.

A: This is an interesting take on the concept of letting your children be responsible for their decisions, and Chuck Moorman is correct when he says many children do not see that they are responsible for their own behaviour. The difference between what he is promoting and what Adlerians promote is around the timing and language.

Moorman suggests you clearly explain the consequences of a child's choices before he or she decides to act. Adlerians, who promote democratic parenting, would suggest that when one gives this sort of warning, the consequences fail to be real consequences and become punitive in nature instead. What democratic parenting suggests is that one simply give the child clear choices and allow the consequences to occur after the child has decided which way to behave. So here's what could be said or done in the case of the toys: State the rule: "We must put our toys away after using them. One of us could trip and get hurt." Give a choice: "You can put the toys away with my help, or you could choose to show me how fast a big boy like you can do it by himself. You decide." Consequences: "You've chosen not to have me help you, nor to put them away yourself. Now, I'll have to put the toys away for a day, where you can't play with them, and we'll see if you can make a better choice around tidying up, on Friday, when I will bring them back out."

Parents using a democratic approach are advised to remain calm, but firm, and clearly tell the child that their chose has resulted in Mom having to take a particular action (a consequence.) It's not punitive, it doesn't blame, it simply states what the consequences are because of the choice the child has made. It is does not state the consequences ahead of time, only the choices. The choices need to be acceptable and appropriate to the parents. You will also note that when the parent uses a democratic approach, the parent also offers hope by giving the child a clear opportunity to 'do better' next time, and that all has not been lost. This is a critical piece not included in Moorman's article. As well, what can easily happen when using Moorman's method is that kids begin to use this strategy against the parents. 'I'll eat my supper if you let me watch my TV show at the same time" or "If you let me stay up late, then I'll brush my teeth." What is happening here is the kid is holding the parent ransom. Whereas in the democratic model the child has two reasonable choices. Only after a poor choice has been made does a consequence kick in.

In the second example, "If you choose to have your chores completed by two o'clock, then I will take you to the mall," is a reward statement. Again, this is similar to the punishment piece above. Adlerians caution parents about using rewards when dealing with children, because they view it as manipulative, rather than consequential. So, using a democratic approach, simply states the rule: "If I remember, we agreed (this is a co-operative statement) that you would have your chores done by two o'clock. It's 1:30 pm. Do you think you'll have time to do so in the next half hour? Great." Consequences: "Well done. I appreciate it when you hold true to our agreements. I think there's enough time left to go to the mall. Do you want to come?" Going to the mall is a direct consequence of having extra time left, not whether or not the child complied. It's really a more powerful learning tool for a child when we keep things neutral. The focus is on the time, not on the child being good or bad.

I must admit I used Moorman's method with my own children when they were younger but I found the democratic approach far more effective. It really does build a child's sense of self-worth because it's not bribery, nor manipulation. There's no question I had fewer tugs of war when I stuck to that approach.

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