Empower kids with “I always, always have choices!”

When’s the last time you heard a child say:  I had to do that. I didn’t have any choice!  or She made me do it! or I’m bored… there’s nothing to do. or  It wasn’t my fault… he started it! Sometimes kids find themselves in situations in which they think they just don’t have any choices.

choice2It might not seem so at first, but kids always have choices.

That’s what step 2 in the CHOOSE tool is all about

Teach kids two important truths:

  1. There are always lots of choices for us.
  2. We may have to look hard to find them, especially when we can’t have our first choice.

Conversation starter — Try this example:

On Saturday morning, Gina’s mom told her she had to clean her room—right now, and no excuses! Gina was just getting ready to go outside to ride her bike. But now she has to clean her room. She doesn’t have any choice….right?

It’s true—Gina doesn’t have a choice about whether or not to clean her room. Mom was clear about that. But she still has choices. In fact, what Gina chooses to do next is very important. First ask: What are some of Gina’s choices? Let the child struggle to multiply options (and here are some possible responses you can drop in to help kickstart their thinking):

  • She can mess around and try to avoid cleaning her room.
  • She can try to sneak out of the house and ride her bike anyway.
  • She can “Claim her problem” and get it done as quickly as possible so she can get on with what she really wants to do.
  • What other choices can you think of? (after children exhaust their lists—help them add 2 more!)
  • Can you see how the choice Gina makes will either help her or make things harder? (i.e. what are the consequences?)

Finding all our choices takes practice.

Most children (and adults) give up too soon, thinking we just don’t have any options, or we do the first thing that comes into our mind.

Brainstorming leads to empowerment.

It gives children the tools they need to protect themselves from being victimized or acting impulsively, especially in those situations in which we are not available to guide or protect them.

Growing up knowing, “I always, always have choices” is one of the most valuable gifts we can give children!

Tweetable: Many children give up too soon when brainstorming choices in any given situation. This could help. Click to Tweet

C.H.O.O.S.E: First, kids learn to Claim the Problem

C.H.O.O.S.E is the acrostic for a teaching tool we can use when equipping children to make wise choices. I learned it from my friend Linda Sibley, who is happy I’m sharing it through these posts.

  • C = Claim the problem
  • H = How many choices do I have?
  • O = Own and use your moral compass
  • O = One choice to try
  • S = See it through
  • E = Evaluate the results

mazeClaim the Problem — Two important words to remember

  1. Claim the PROBLEM tells us life is full of problems we solve by deciding what to do about them. Some problems are easy and some are hard, but problems are just a part of life. Everyone has them.
  2. CLAIM the problem tells us the place to start is to face up to whatever problems come our way. Sometimes we don’t want to face something, so we pretend it is not there. We hope if we ignore it, it will just go away. Unfortunately, problems don’t “just go away” by themselves. Facing up to them (claiming) is the first step to resolving them.

Sounds easy, but some problems are harder to claim than others and we might feel afraid of them, like

  • getting in trouble with mom or dad or your teacher
  • losing a friend
  • looking dumb in front of other people

broken windowIt’s okay to be afraid when we have to claim a difficult problem. It’s not okay to make an unwise choice just because we’re scared. It’s okay to be scared to tell dad that you were the one who broke the window—who wouldn’t be scared to do that? But choosing to lie about it or blame someone else is not claiming your problem.

So what can a kid do when you have a problem to face up to and you’re scared?

You can remember that claiming your problem is always better than running away from it. And don’t forget to ask for help if you need it!

Conversation starters:

  • woman and coffee cupHow do I know when I should ask for help with a problem I am facing? (when you feel scared, confused, or just want to talk)
  • Who can I ask for help? (Be sure every child has a list of at least 5 sources of help. Their lists could include, friends, relatives, counselors, teachers, coaches, clergy, etc.)
  • Write a list:
    • …Older children may have a personal device on which they have a “List” category. Guide them in entering names and phone numbers of those on their personal Helpers List.
    • …Younger children will need help writing out names and numbers and deciding on a safe place to keep their list. The list for children who can’t read will be actual photos of trusted adults they can turn to for help.
  • Keep a family Gratitude Journal in which you record instances when the family received help (including possibly God’s) when they faced a hard problem.

Tweetable: So what’s a kid to do when you have a problem to face up to and you’re scared? Some ideas here. Click to Tweet

Here’s a fun decision-making process for kids

donutsWill I get up now or hit the snooze button one more time (and probably be late for work)? Will I stop the kids from fighting now or wait until they draw blood? Will I take time to eat breakfast or eat a donut at coffee break (and feel guilty about the calories the rest of the day)? A friend just called to tell me my child beat up his child after school today. How will I deal with my child?

We all have our own way of dealing with choices.

Often our dilemma is how to make the “best” choice. How do I know something is not going to be a bad choice?

In this series we will discover a decision-making process we can use with the important children in our lives.

Through their small and weighty decisions, they will develop their own style. If the end result is their growth, we have done well.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAExamples of growth results would be to….

  • Learn something new that increases the child’s ability to advance the common good
  • Heal relationships, bringing out greater cooperation and harmony
  • Strengthen character traits like integrity or patience

Unwise choices are often the ones we end up wishing we hadn’t made.

We can think of examples of these choices in our lives, our political, religious, business leaders’ lives and our children’s lives. We tend to make these choices….

  • for short-term pleasure
  • to look out only for our own interests
  • to relieve emotional pain or stress
  • without thought for the consequences

With so many variables in our lives, making a good choice may seem, at times, an overwhelming task.

Maybe that’s why so many people try to turn to God for guidance: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

4 preparation questions for adults before we guide children

Before we begin guiding children, we can first take a deeper look at our own decision-making processes. Use the questions below to think through your own personal history.

  1. Which of the following best represents your decision-making style at the present time? Impulsive, logical, avoidance, emotional, imagining the worst, victim of circumstances/people, others:_______, _______.
  2. What decision can you remember making as a child that changed the course of your life?
  3. As an adult, what’s a decision you made that hurt you? Helped you? Greatly affected someone else?
  4. Describe a decision you are facing today that is of concern to you.

Stay tuned for the rest of this series as we look at how to teach children good decision-making processes, one part at a time.

(My friend Linda Sibley designed the CHOOSE tool and she is excited I’m sharing it here. This entry is part of a series.)


  • Unwise choices are often the ones we end up wishing we hadn’t made. Guide kids toward better choices. Click to Tweet
  • Do you know kids who have trouble making decisions? Good, wise decisions? Break it down for them here. Click to Tweet  

“Use your words.” Words for a kid’s spiritual vocabulary

words in boxIt’s hard to find child-sized words kids can use to express spiritual or transcendent experiences. “Kids need to know the words,” says middle school teacher Sheila Edwards. “When you’re giving to others, that’s sacrifice. Labeling it makes it powerful. Kids can say, ‘I did this—it shows I’m committed,’ or ‘This shows I have integrity.’”

A teacher told one student: “Jake’s mother told me that every kid in the class made fun of him when his nose was runny—everyone but you. Your compassion made a difference to Jake. He came home and told his mom about it.”

Our reward for giving children words

The reward for giving children language to go with their spiritual life is that we build a bridge connecting ourselves with the child in the deepest part of their being (and ours). If nurtured, it will remain so for the rest of our lives. And the child can form bonds like this with other trustworthy people because they have language to communicate at this level..

I know, because my mother did this with me.

For instance, in a supermarket line she said, “That clerk has an amazing amount of self-control. Look how patient and calm she is with the angry customer.”  Or when I, as an 11-year-old, came sobbing to her about how I was afraid she would die, after comforting me emotionally, she said, “Honey, I am indestructible until my work on earth is finished and when it is, God will provide everything you need to live a good life.”

helpingbrotherStart with photos

A young family can benefit from a Photo Album of family members’ generous, thoughtful actions. Young children remember IMAGES, not words. Print and hang actual photos near your dining table or attach them to the refrigerator. Change them periodically to show new expressions of the family’s spiritual values.

Move on to educate them with vocabulary words that match the behaviors.

Notice and affirm loving behavior. “Sage had trouble opening her straw. You did it and poked it into her juice box. That was helpful.”

I listen for, and excitedly affirm children when they use spiritual vocabulary, such as:

justice — mercy — God — peace — helpful –moral — faith — purpose — meaning — ethical — good — right — wrong — reason — conscience — spirit — soul — mind –worship — prayer —  forgive — integrity — truth — inner life — loving

Each of these words becomes part of a child’s vocabulary.  Once children identify language to go with their spiritual life, they can use those words in daily settings.Their everyday acts and interactions reflect a spiritual quality.

Spiritual qualities my mother’s words passed to me:

To hear with my heart

To see with my soul

To be guided by a hand I cannot hold

To trust in a way that I cannot see

That’s what faith must be. (Michael Card)


  • It’s hard to find child-sized words kids can use to express spiritual or transcendent experiences. Click to Tweet
  • Educate children with vocabulary words that reflect their ethical behavior. Read more here. Click to Tweet

The Switch: Nurture a child’s fascination

butterflyA captivating 4-minute animated video sheds light on the mystery of how children find their life purpose.




A friend of Bill’s, one of our blog readers, explains that Bill died in October 2015 in the mountains of Ethiopia while on assignment for his employer, The Field Museum in Chicago, doing what he loved.

Finding what we love is part of the spiritual journey.

We have talents, aptitudes, feelings, intelligence, traits and a human spirit. Everything about us is woven together so that we are able to find and do what we love. Whether we see God’s design and involvement in this or a specific combination of DNA coming together by chance, both perspectives flow together into the same message: Nurture a child’s fascination.

What adults did to cause Bill to flip the switch of purpose:

  • In-home resources: He had access to a book about butterflies.
  • Introduction to a person who does what Bill loves: His mother knew about, and took him to, a museum where he got expert advice.
  • “You can handle this”: His mother sent him in to speak to the Curator of Insects alone.
  • Genuine praise and respect from the curator: “I have never seen a better-prepared specimen. How did you do it?”
  • Follow-up loop: The curator gave Bill the proper supplies, with the directive to make another specimen and “Bring it back to me.”

In Bill’s career overseeing all of the 30 million specimens and objects in the Field Museum, he helped to flip the switch in many young minds. Bill said the solutions to the problems that plague our world are dependent on these young people.


  • Captivating 4-minute animation sheds light on the mystery of how children find their life purpose. Click to Tweet
  • Nurture a child’s fascination and prepare their brain to flip The Switch. Click to Tweet