Chosen Blog

15 April 2020

The Power of Choices

Chosen - Adoption | Foster & Orphan Care Outreach | Mentoring

By Staci Thomas, TBRI® Practitioner

In the spring of 2019, I made choices. I chose which basketball game to watch during the NCAA finals. I decided to take my daughter to a concert for her birthday instead of buying her a pair of shoes. I chose the beach in Florida instead of an anniversary trip to Chicago.

In the spring of 2020, there were no sporting events, concerts, or vacations. Nobody knew when we could resume long-term planning again. Those days were hard and uncertain for everyone.

When choices are taken away, we feel out of control.

Children and teens who have spent time in foster or residential care, an international orphanage, or moving between relatives’ homes have had no say in the matter. They didn’t choose to leave their birth parents. It wasn’t their decision to move into the home of a stranger. They didn’t ask for abuse or neglect. Just like adults during the shelter-in-place quarantine of 2020, children feel out of control when all choices are made for them.

Kids who have been harmed by abuse and neglect live in a state of fear.  This can look like “bad” behavior when it is just survival instinct.

Is there anything that can help?

Yes! Choices help children and teens feel like they are in control. Giving kids choices also builds trust and connection with parents. When children feel in control, their behaviors will seem more manageable.

Ironically, telling parents to give choices often makes them feel out of control. It seems permissive. Adults may have a deep-seated belief that sharing control removes their authority as parents. Instead, simple choices can empower children and help to reduce anxiety and fear.

What giving choices looks like:

  • One Chosen family struggled to get their ten-year old foster son to shower. A hard history with showers made him feel afraid. He attempted to “take back control” by throwing a fit every night before his shower. His parents decided to give him two choices: 1) He could race his foster dad to the bathroom, or 2) He could get a piggyback ride to the bathroom. A simple choice helped the boy feel in control and the meltdowns finally stopped.

  • A teenager was failing chemistry and was at risk of not graduating from high school. Her parents gave her two choices: 1) Get tutoring from a college student, or 2) Get tutoring from her teacher. She chose the college student and passed the class.

  • In our family, unloading the dishwasher felt extremely overwhelming to our daughter, who struggles with sensory issues. The banging of plates caused her to react in a way that appeared defiant. But we knew it was her way of saying, “This is hard for me. I need help.” So, we told her she could unload the dishwasher: 1) with her earplugs in or, 2) with music playing through her headphones.

The key with giving choices

Choices should always be acceptable to both parent and child. The boy afraid to shower felt in control with choices, and he still took a shower, which is what the parents wanted. The teenager struggling with chemistry felt in control with the solution and still got the help she needed to graduate, which is what her parents wanted. In our family, our daughter felt empowered to choose how she unloaded the dishes.

It can be helpful to write out a list of appropriate choices for the children in your home. Use the image at the top of this blog to inspire some ideas! Learn more about giving children choices by watching Coffee with Chosen: Choices – Letting your Little Ones Feel in Control.

If you want to learn more about ways to help your child feel safe, contact us today at  info@chosen.care. We are here to help your family!