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Meaningful Choices for Babies and Toddlers

I know I've said this a lot lately, but I'll say it again...Montessori is not just about the things but it's about how we view and treat children. This shift in how children are treated does not start at 3, 4, or 5 when children start school, but it starts from birth.

Children are individuals deserving respect from the moment they enter this world

What does this mean practically? I think that means a few things. One, it means talking to babies and toddlers, not talking around them. This means talking to even young babies about what we are doing with them and around them. It also often means stopping to wait for a response, even if the baby isn't verbal.

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Two, I think respecting babies and young toddlers means offering meaningful choices. Despite popular belief, even babies have the ability to make choices. The older a child gets the more capable they are to make decisions. 

What kinds of decisions can babies and young toddlers make? 

Which Toys to Explore

At first, you can offer two choices and see which one your baby looks at or reaches for. "Would you like the ring or the bell rattle?" Use non-verbal hints from your baby to determine which they would like. 

As kids get older you can place a couple of choices near your baby, see which one he or she gravitates toward. For toddlers, they should have complete control to pick any toy or material in the environment. 

What to Wear and How to Get Dressed

It seems incredible but even young babies can pick a shirt. From the time, Nora has been 7-8 months old, I have held two choices and let her pick. The one she reached for was the one she wears. Now {at 19 months} she can use verbal clues to help me which choice she makes. "Let's get dressed now! Should we put on your pants or your shirt first?" Simple choices like this can avoid a tantrum! You're not only respecting your child, but giving them some freedom and control. By avoiding the power struggle you can avoid the tears. 

What to Eat 

I don't think I would love it if someone told me what and how much to eat. Why would a young child? For babies, you can offer a couple choices {if baby-led-weaning it's just the same choices you are making} and place on a plate. Then, your child can choose which to try and how much to eat. 

Toddlers can verbalized a bit better and may be ready to make more direct choices. "I see that you are hungry. Would you like an apple or banana for snack?" Or "It's dinner time. Do you want broccoli or a salad?"

How to Move 

Freedom of movement is a big deal for young kids. Again, a lot of tantrums and power struggles can be avoided by simply asking your child how they want to get from one place to another. This one isn't as simple with babies, but is great for walkers. 

Each day when we drop Henry off at school you can find me crouch down and say "Nora it's time to go. Would you like to walk or should I carry you?" Most days you'll see Nora happily say "walk!" and come with me. 

Other opportunities to give them freedom of movement include when changing their diaper, when climbing into their car seat, when asking them to get off a table ("Can you get down on your own, or do you need help?") and other similar times. 

I'm sure there are other meaningful choices that babies and toddlers can make! But, these are definitely the ones I practice on a daily basis.

There are a few things to keep in mind when offering meaningful choices to young children -- 

  • Never offer something that you are uncomfortable with the answer. Either choice has to be alright with you.
  • Limit the options and stick to that limit. 2 or {maybe} 3 options is all a young child needs, otherwise it's easy for them to become overwhelmed.
  • Stick to the initial choice that was made. Lots of back and forth can be hard on both of you.
  • Get down on your child's level and offer the choice. Be clear in setting the limit "It's time to go." "Let's change your diaper." and on the choices.
  • Avoid adding a "can we?" or "okay?" Or any other question that provides a different option -- this will just increase frustration.
  • If your child won't choose an option, don't get frustrated. Simply stay calm and say, "you're showing me that you need me to choose." and, then make the decision. Then, offer a choice the next time.

Do you offer meaningful choices to your toddler or baby? How does your child respond? What other choices have you given?

Don't miss my Montessori Parenting Pinterest Board for more great inspiration. 


Audrey said…
Haha I'm reading this is a cafe then realised I was nodding in agreement :) All I can say is yes! I was lucky to stumble onto RIE with my 2nd child and it really confirmed for me everything I had spent 2.5 years learning with my first - I only really discovered Montessori when Ted was a toddler. Looking back, I spent more time than necessary swimming against the tide. Although, I must add that it seems as though my daughter has been very clear in what she wants from day 1 - it mustn't just be me either as everyone who knows her knows exactly what she wants to communicate too! Aren't children marvelous? Thank you.
James said…
It appears amazing however actually youthful infants may choose a clothing. In the period, Nora may be 7-8 several weeks aged, I've kept 2 options as well as allow the woman's choose. The main one your woman arrived at with regard to had been the main one your woman would wear.
love this post so much! I recently started giving choices to my 10 month old that you suggest such as holding up two shirts, two pairs of pajamas, two bibs, etc. Great suggestion!!
Mark Vargas said…
Having a toddler in the home is really a difficult task for every parent. He or she needs proper care and attention and needs safety in every step. But, we should also deliver our best towards their care and attention with the help of different types of suitable baby products. This article also describes certain important points on baby care products. Thanks for a wonderful post.
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