The Magician's Force
As a magician, I sometimes use a technique called "the magician's force". This is when I offer a spectator an apparent choice. In fact, I am not really offering them a choice, it just looks like I am. I have manipulated the situation to have their choice be the one that I want, the one that will make the trick work. When the trick is accomplished, the spectator is amazed, and I build my reputation as a magician.
This same general concept can be used with children and teens in our work with them. We can give choices to children that appear to be larger and freer than they really are, when in fact, we are steering them to the choice that is best for them. There is nothing dishonest about making a particular choice more attractive to a child, just as there is nothing inherently dishonest about my magic trick. Of course, if I misused may magic talent to cheat someone out of money, that would be unacceptable.
Make your choice offers in a clear, simple, authoritative manner. Assertiveness and boldness is the way a magician approaches a "volunteer" spectator. The spectator needs to feel that the magician has something valuable to share, and while assertive, is not going to embarrass or hurt them. So too, children need clear, simple presentation of their choices from you in an assertive and decisive manner. This kind of approach sets up a semi-conscious sensation of a boundary and limit to the choices available.
Another technique used in magic is distraction. As a magician, I do not look myself where I do not want you to look. I place my attention and gestures onto where I want your eyes to be. The lesson here is not to give the poorer choices as much attention as the best choice. The tone of your voice and your...embellishment about the choice that you think is best for the child can be a nudge in the right direction. It is important not to go overboard on the tone of voice or embellishments, or the child will catch on.
Try also to use the phrase "your choice" at least three times, and give them time to think about their choice (but not too much time). Just as a magician does not walk away from a spectator he has asked to "choose a card, any card", stay close as the child decides. While they are deciding, don't press with words, just stay close (your physical proximity is the "move along" pressure). If they pick the one you don't think is best, try one more time by asking them if they want to change their mind?
Yet another technique to offering only one real choice, is to break it up into three different versions. For example: "Do you want to take a bath or shower, do you want to take it right now or just before you go to sleep?" Four options, only one real choice.
With some people, it matters where in the list of choices you put the one you want them to pick. Some people tend to always take the first choice, others the last, and still others the center choice. If you can discover their pattern, place your choice in the favored position.
Remember, even the best magicians have tricks get "messed up" because a spectator did not take the magician's force. When this happens, the magician has to think fast, and be prepared to keep his composure, and move on quickly to another trick. When we offer a choice to a child or teen, we must be prepared that they might choose the direction that we don't think is the best. So, never offer an option that you can not live with, back up, or put quickly behind you.
Bill Krill is a guest writer and a Child and Adolescent Mental and Behavioral Health professional trainer. You can read more about his services on his parent education, support, and coaching