I founded a Montessori school and see how kids have 'decision fatigue.' We need to stop giving them so many choices.

Mother looking at camera while baby sleeps
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  • I run a Montessori school in Brooklyn and engage with parents and kids regularly.

  • The idea behind giving kids choices is that it will empower them.

  • But expecting children to sign off on every family decision can quickly become a problem.

Most weekends, my husband and I have our babysitter come over for a couple of hours on Saturday so we can go out to lunch or run errands without our four kids. I run a small Montessori school for a living, so these excursions are the only time in my week when I am without children. I take respite in the fact that one of the very few decisions I will make on our outings is which restaurant we'll go to.

A few months back, I chose a restaurant we both tend to like. As our hostess walked us to our table, I noticed we were being sat next to a couple with two young kids. There were iPads, french fries, wet wipes, and a couple small toys strewn about their table. They seemed like a sweet family; the boys were adorable, but the mom was circling the table like a shark, rarely able to sit down for more than a second. I related all too well. As much as I love kids, just watching this mom juggle so many visible and invisible demands caused some empathetic overwhelm to creep into my system.

After a few minutes I settled in to peruse the menu, deciding what I might be in the mood for. I was stuck between an omelet and a chicken sandwich.

Then, the interrogation began at the next table.

"Did you like your french fries? Did you get enough to eat, do you want more ketchup? Would you eat a few more nuggets if you had more ketchup? Do you want to go to the bathroom before we leave? Do you want Mommy to take you to the bathroom? Should Daddy bring you? Should we wipe your hands first? Are you sure you're all done? Should we try to go potty now?"

It was exhausting.

Giving choices can be good

Parenting trends come and go, and at some point, giving kids choices became a parenting practice that was widely promoted. The idea was that choices empower children and make them feel they are valued members of the family.

It's my firm belief that the parenting experts pushing the idea of choices generally intend for parents to give kids choices over which pair of pajamas they want to wear to bed or which flavor of ice cream they might want when the ice cream truck appears.

But as can sometimes happen with well-intentioned parenting approaches, the idea of giving choices has been taken to the extreme to the point that it's now common practice to ask kids about every whim and preference they might have. Perhaps more concerning, it has become increasingly more common to ask children about enormous life decisions, such as "Do you want to move to California or should we stay in New York?"

On the surface it seems like checking in regarding our children's preferences is a good thing, right? It's respectful and considerate of their desires. It shows them that we value their opinion. It tells them that we see them as a full-fledged member of our family unit, having equal, or in some cases greater voting rights, as the adult members of the family.

We might be giving kids too many choices

But ask any parent, working or stay-at-home, at 6 pm what they want for dinner, and most will tell you they don't want to decide. Why? Likely because by 6 pm that day, they have made hundreds of decisions about both minutia and things that could have serious impacts or consequences. They'd love nothing more than to turn the decision-making power over to someone else and be fed. It's a welcome trade-off, losing a bit of control in favor of feeling fully taken care of.

Of course, the type of choice that empowers children but does not overwhelm them can be great. Asking our children a barrage of questions as a habitual style of conversing is perhaps more questionable. Moving into the anxious territory of being scared to make a wrong move or displease our kids by laying claim to a reasonable amount of authority in regard to decisions that may have even the slightest impact on them stands to do far more harm than good. A line has to be drawn somewhere.

Expecting children to sign off or weigh in on every decision quickly becomes impractical for the parent and the child. It also chips away at the best parts of being a child, which, as far as I remember, included not being burdened to make constant decisions and not having to feel responsible when things go wrong.

Maybe it's time we let children go back to that type of care-free existence and understand that choice doesn't necessarily lead to satisfaction anyway. And in many cases, it has the potential to lead to regret.

These days, I pay for a babysitter once a week just for the opportunity to get a taste of that.

Christine Carrig, M.S.Ed is the founding director of Carrig Montessori School in Brooklyn, NY. She has been a Montessori educator and administrator for the last 18 years. You can sign up for her newsletter at The Family Flow or follow her on Instagram @christine.m.carrig. She lives in Queens, NY, with her husband and their four children.

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