The first use of this tactic is a simple way to gently nudge a toddler in the direction you'd like them to go when they are dawdling or digging their heels into the ground. This element of the tactic is great for those days when just getting out of the house seems like a monumental undertaking. One of the best ways I've found to get us moving is to offer a series of choices. "Okay, it's time to get shoes on. Would you like to wear the red sandals or the blue shoes?" Once we get past that hurdle, we can move on to the next step. "Do you want to walk to the car or should I carry you?" This little trick gives the child some control of the means along the way to my desired end. (An important note - in order for this tactic to work, it must always be used genuinely. Never ever conceal a threat as one of the choices. "Do you want to put on your shoes or go without dessert?" will undermine your attempts at genuine choices in the future.)
The second application of this tactic is probably my favorite of all because it is so reliable yet so thoughtful of everyone involved. It calls on a toddlers sense of independence and helpfulness and almost always gets the result I'm seeking. It works like this. Say a child has taken something out of a drawer that you do not want them to play with. Perhaps you've asked them to put it back, but your request went unheeded. The next step is to calmly state the problem and offer a choice that will resolve it to your satisfaction. "That book is very special to mama. It must go back in the drawer. Is Riker going to put it back or should mama?" I have found that those simple statements work like magic and until recently, the answer was always "Riker do it!" It's important to remember that the request must be given in a completely calm and unemotional voice for it work, however. If you sound frantic or angry or like you're giving an order, the magic is lost.
This tactic also works a treat in conflicts over snatched toys. "Riker, Jago was playing with that truck and he is sad that you took it from him. The truck needs to go back to Jago and you can have a turn later. Would you like to give it back, or should mama?" If the other child is wailing in the background, I will apologize to him or her and ask them to please wait a moment. I like to use the situation as an opportunity to help my child empathize with the one who feels sadness or anger over the lost toy while I calmly carry on with the request. If the child runs away or refuses to give the toy back, I will repeat the choice (again with as little emotion as possible). If it doesn't work, I will return the toy feeling confident that I used a gentle negotiation strategy first. Then I remind my child that he can have a turn later, but it is very important to ask or offer to trade before taking a toy. Read more about my thoughts on toddlers, empathy and apologies.
In each of these examples, offering a choice is a terrific way to finesse a positive outcome out of a challenging situation in such a way that both parties can feel that their desires were respected and accommodated.