In general, parents and caregivers want their children to adhere to rules and learn responsibility while also feeling confident and safe. Many parents have issues with this balance and end up in power struggles with their children. If I allow too much choice, won’t they grow up to be entitled and undisciplined? But if I am too strict and harsh, our relationship might suffer. Child-Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) allows therapists to work with parents and their children to foster positive parent-child attachment while practicing strategies to create effective boundaries and consequences and help form confident, independent, and emotionally safe children. In this blog, we will explore why you should consider using a technique from CPRT, choice-giving, as a parent.
What Is Choice Giving?
Choice giving is one of the very important principles and practices discussed in child-parent relationship therapy. What is the importance of choice giving, and why does it work so well with children? One of the most frustrating things that caregivers often experience is the negative reaction in children when they hear the word “no”. As adults, parents, and caregivers, we can all understand the fear of saying “no” to children – whether it is due to a fear of retaliation, an anticipation of upsetting our children, or an uncomfortable feeling of guilt.
In CPRT, we teach the importance of choice-giving, and its overall benefit in helping children with emotional regulation, fostering appropriate reactions from caregivers, and facilitating feelings of confidence, security, and safety in both caregivers and children. In Psychology In The Schools, the authors say, “The skills taught during CPRT, such as therapeutic limit setting, reflection of feelings, and choice giving, teach children to express their emotions in acceptable ways and foster the development of self-control.”
How Choice Giving Can Benefit Children
Choice giving offers many benefits to parents/caregivers and their children.
- Increase Confidence, Practice Decision Making, & Learn Consequences
Choice giving can be used to increase confidence, practice basic independent decisions, and learn consequences and limits, whether it be in the context of play, chores, routine, or other areas. The CPRT manual discusses the importance of providing children choices and how it can facilitate their feelings of empowerment, self esteem, and safety. The manual says, “Providing children with age-appropriate choices empowers them by allowing them a measure of control over their circumstances. Children who feel more empowered and ‘in control’ are more capable of regulating their own behavior, a prerequisite for self-control. Choices require that children tap into their inner resources, rather than relying on parents (external resources) to stop their behavior or solve the problem for them” (Bratton et al., 2006).
- Reduce Power Struggles & Preserve The Child-Parent Relationship
The CPRT Manual says, “Providing children with choices reduces power struggles between parent and child and, importantly, preserves the child-parent relationship. Both parent and child are empowered; parent is responsible for, or in control of, providing parameters for choices, and the child is responsible for, or in control of, his/her decision (within parent-determined parameters” An example would be if a child is outside, but it is time to come in. A caregiver can state, “It is time to come inside. Do you want to pick up your toys yourself, or do you want me to help you?” Dr. Ashley Garrett, Ph.D., LPC-S, RPT-S, NCC, recommends that parents “look at the skill you are wanting to teach when power struggles surface. Many times we get into power struggles because we are stressed due to overbooked schedules or exhausted from expectations we do not feel we can meet. It helps to take a deep breath and think about the life skill you are trying to help your child master. Maybe it is regulation of emotions, sharing, managing time or tasks, following directions, or working as a team. Knowing your overall goal will help you to verbalize expectations in a developmentally appropriate way.”
- Reduce Anxiety & Increase Security
Providing choices gives children a sense of control that reduces anxiety and increases security, as well as being more likely to reduce dysregulation and defiance. Caregivers should provide choices that are compatible with the child’s age and developmental level. Bigger and more complicated choices would be used with older children, and smaller and simpler choices would be for younger children (For example, basic choices like choosing between two shirts would be appropriate for a four year old child.) It is also important to avoid providing overly complicated choices; too many choices will overwhelm children and complicate the situation. Choices would also ideally be selected in advance by parents. For example, if a child does not want to go to bed and wants to stay awake instead, a parent can clearly state the predetermined limit, while providing a choice, “It is time for bed. Would you like to walk yourself to bed, or would you rather me walk with you to bed?” Providing a choice instead of simply saying “no” can foster autonomy, confidence, self esteem, and provide children with a sense of control, whereas rigid responses of “no” or “because I said so” are more likely to lead to frustration, dysregulation, and feelings of being powerless in the child.
- Develop Individuality & Personality
Young children will often say “No” to something parents impose on them. This stubbornness isn’t always bad and can be a sign of children’s developing individuality. A Penn State Extension article says offering children the option to choose allows them space to assert themselves and their unique personalities while maintaining necessary boundaries and limits. Offering children a choice also facilitates cooperation and usually avoids power struggles. The needs of both children and parents can be met through children getting to have a choice and parents getting to avoid the battle of power with the children. When rules are clear and consistent and the consequences of choice are known preemptively for everyone involved, there is less room for negotiating and arguing. For example, “If you choose to finish your homework by 4:00, you choose to get to play your computer game. If you choose not to finish your homework by 4:00, you choose not to play your computer game” (Bratton et al., 2006). Dr. Garrett states “it is difficult to do this when as parents we feel like our own choices are limited. When stress levels are high, our creative problem solving skills are not as sharp.” Just a few sessions can help an overwhelmed parent get organized and feel like they have more control over their parenting decisions.
- Offer A Safe Amount Of Control
Penn State Extension says, “Offering children choices is a way of offering them control over their lives without putting them at risk. While making such simple choices may seem insignificant to adults, choice conveys to children that their unique preferences are important, and can dramatically decrease the number of daily battles that must be fought. Giving children small choices teaches them that they have the ability and the responsibility to make larger choices in life, such as whether to follow or to break rules. To take this a step further, children who are allowed to choose learn that deciding between a good choice or a bad choice is actually deciding between a positive outcome or a predictable and undesirable negative consequence” (Mincemoyer, 2016).
Therapy Can Help
A 2006 article says, “Child-Parent Relationship Therapy includes a number of principles and practices that demonstrate neurodevelopmental sensitivity. Perhaps most significantly this approach helps parents learn the principles of play therapy and engage children in relational connection rather than verbal discussions.” (Miller, 2006)
A factor in children that is paramount for caregivers to remember and consider is children’s potential experiences with trauma. A 2021 article in the Journal of Counseling & Development discusses adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), their prevalence, and their short and long term effects. The article reports that a majority of people report at least one ACE in their lifetime, whether it be abuse (witnessing or being victim), neglect, household dysfunction, divorce/separation, family deaths, poverty, substance use, mental illness, or a variety of other things. The article discusses research findings that presence of ACEs directly corresponds to higher incidences of behavioral and emotional problems, school issues, negative mental health, substance use, criminal behavior, and more. Trauma and experiences can contribute to hyperarousal, aggression, defiance, and behavioral issues. Therefore, it is evident that in a behavioral and emotional context with children, it is sometimes important to ask the questions, “What happened to you?” rather than “Why do you do this” or “What’s wrong with you?” (Perry & Winfrey, 2021).
With the knowledge of how trauma can affect children’s emotions, behavior, and reactivity, we see how play can be an effective tool for children’s emotional wellbeing and feelings of security, confidence, and self esteem, thus leading to better behavioral outcomes. According to the article mentioned above, there is a well established amount of evidence of the effectiveness of child centered play therapy (CCPT), which is a play based therapeutic intervention that allows children to express themselves and process emotions through their natural language of play. However, this particular study found that children with a history of ACEs and trauma that participated in CCPT had significant improvement in emotional regulation, empathy, responsibility, and social competence. The article says, “For children who have experienced adverse events and trauma, events over which they have no control, CCPT offers an alternate relationship in which children experience themselves as in control and able to make self and other-enhancing decisions when given the opportunity.” The research shows that elements of play in therapy can help children build a sense of control, empathy, social skills, and self-regulation that can be effective in improving behavioral issues.
Garrett Counseling offers child-parent relationship therapy in a 10 session intervention that helps give caregivers and parents additional parenting skills, including choice-giving, to help facilitate stronger relationships and attachments between them and their children. At its core, CPRT is centered around special playtimes that occur once a week. During these playtimes, parents spend individual time with their child and allow the child to direct the playtime freely while also being able to practice important parenting concepts to continue expanding and strengthening their skills. Choice-giving provides healthy ways to discipline rather than punish and helps a child learn how to engage in making appropriate choices and learn self-responsibility. A Penn State Extension article says, “When parents start integrating the use of choice into their repertoire, simple everyday tasks such as getting dressed in the morning can be completed more quickly.”
If you are ready to get started with Child-Parent Relationship Therapy, contact us at (256) 239-5662 or online! For mental health professionals, visit our Brave Play page to learn more about continuing education opportunities we offer throughout the year.
If you are interested in learning more about play therapy, you might enjoy these articles:
- Does Play Therapy Benefit Teens?
- Play Therapy With Adolescents
- Guest Blog: Does My Preschooler Need Play Therapy?
- How Play Therapy Can Help Children Recover From Trauma
This article was written by Lee Thompson, a mental health professional at Garrett Counseling in Albertville / Boaz, AL. Learn more about Lee here.
Bratton, S. C., Landreth, G. L., Kellam, T., & Blackard, S. R. (2006). Child parent relationship therapy (CPRT) treatment manual: A 10-session filial therapy model for training parents. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Ceballos, P. L., & Bratton, S. C. (2010). Empowering Latino families: Effects of a culturally responsive intervention for low‐income immigrant Latino parents on children’s behaviors and parental stress. Psychology in the Schools, 47(8), 761-775.
Miller, R. M. (2006). Neuroscience and CPRT. In Child-Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) An Evidence-Based 10-Session Filial Therapy Model (pp. 13-28). Routledge.
Mincemoyer, C. C. (2016). Giving children choices (Better Kid Care). Penn State Extension. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/early-care/tip-pages/all/giving-children-choices
Perry, B. D. & Winfrey, O. (2021). What happened to you?: Conversations on trauma, resilience, and healing. Bluebird.
Ray, D. C., Burgin, E., Gutierrez, D., Ceballos, P., & Lindo, N. (2021). Child-centered play therapy and adverse childhood experiences: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Counseling & Development, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcad.12412