Saturday, June 3, 2006

Hard choices

In our household, we rarely give our children hard choices. Instead, when we given them choices we weight things to make it easy. For example, "come to dinner and wash your hands or you will miss out entirely." A fairly stark choice. Sometimes the alternative option is simply "or else" and we leave the else open to interpretation.

That is taking it a little far. For some choices that are relatively unimportant to both us and the children we can give real choice. Choosing breakfast cereal is one of these; although it is a constrained one -- "choose amongst the cereals that do not constitute a special treat and do it quickly." For these choices, there are no grave consequences.

The other day I had the opportunity to give our children a real choice over something they care about. As a reward for many weeks of good behaviour (using a complex points system to be described at another time), our two eldest children were allowed a special lunch. (See my earlier post about carrots at McDonalds). Usually, this is McDonalds but our daughter had experienced KFC and now believed strongly in it.

At Victoria Gardens (a shopping mall in Melbourne), they have a food court with McDonalds and KFC side-by-side. This was an opportunity to present the choice starkly to my daughter, in particular, and see if her head would explode. The idea that she would have to choose to give up one or the other is something, I believe, would be unfathomable in her experience. It would be a hard choice.

Turned out I was wrong. She was a true believer in KFC and made the choice easily. The 11 secret herbs and spices were too much of a draw. So much for my fun! Our son, on the other hand, found himself in a dilemma. Go with KFC on his sister's recommendation or go to McDonalds where the Happy Meal had a 'Cars' toy rather than a dinosaur. He made his choice on the toy and went to McDonalds; saving me $1 by the way. Obviously, those licensing fees to Disney are worth every penny.

When it came down to it, it turned out that I faced the hardest choice. Get either McDonalds or KFC or stand in a third line. One chicken fillet burger and chips later I found that time was the decisive dimension for me.