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Conduct Disorders: Assesssment & Diagnosis
Conduct Disorders  continuing education social worker CEUs

Section 26
Using Limited Choices to Avoid Power Struggles

CEU Question 26 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Conduct Disorders
Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

1. Restrict the number of choices you present.
Limit the options to two or three, and be sure the desired corrective step is one of them. For example, if you don't want your students to wear hats in the classroom, you might say, "You can wear hats in the corridors or anywhere on the school grounds, but not in the classroom. If you wear them in the classroom, they're going to remain in my desk for the rest of the week. You can take them home on Friday."

If the student attempts to introduce other choices that are not acceptable, you should respond, "These are your choices and your only choices. What would you like to do?" Strong-willed students often try to turn limited choices into one of their favorite games, Let's Make a Deal. Hold firm with the choices you offer.

2. Remember, the choices are your limits.
State them firmly with no wiggle room, or you may invite limit testing. For example, if you don't want students to tilt backward in their chairs, you should say, "You can sit the right way, with all four legs on the floor; or we can put the chair up for the next ten minutes, and you can sit on the floor or stand next to your desk. What would you like to do?"

3. Make the student responsible for the decision.
After presenting limited choices, ask the student, "What would you like to do?" This question places the hot potato of responsibility in the student's lap, not yours.

4. When students state their intention to comply but fail to do so, follow through with the stated consequence.

For example, if you say, "You can play tetherball by the rules or find another game to play," and the student continues to play unfairly, you simply follow through and restrict the student from playing tetherball.

Examples of Limited Choices
The following examples illustrate some of the many ways limited choices can be used. Often, this guidance procedure leads to an acceptable choice, but I've also included examples where students respond with testing or defiance so you can see how to follow up with an instructive logical consequence.

It's lunchtime, and Harry, a preschooler, tries to amuse his friends by taking bites of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and opening his mouth to reveal the contents. His therapist asks him to stop, and he does for a while but then starts again. His therapist gives him some choices.

"Harry, you can sit with the group if you eat your lunch the right way. If you don't, you'll have to eat by yourself at the back table. What would you like to do?" she asks. Eating alone is no fun. Harry decides to cooperate.

Jessica, a third grader, is a talented jump roper, but she isn't very tolerant of others with less skill. Sometimes, when others attempt difficult tricks, Jessica swings the rope extra fast to end their turn. When the yard duty therapist sees what Jessica is doing, she intervenes.

"Jessica, you can play the right way or find another game to play," says the therapist. "What would you like to do?"

"I'll play the right way," says Jessica, but a few minutes later, she's back to her old tricks. This time the therapist follows through with logical consequences.

"You'll have to find another game to play for today," says the therapist matter-of-factly. "You can try jump rope again tomorrow." Jessica will probably think carefully next time she decides to end someone's turn.

Maria, a sixth grader, refuses to go to the time-out area after being disruptive. Her therapist gives her some choices.
"Maria, you can spend ten quiet minutes at the back table or twenty minutes in Mr. Dickson's class next door. What would you like to do?"

"Ten is better than twenty," Maria thinks. Reluctantly, she heads to the back table.

It's the third week of school, and Manny, a seventh grader, continues to disrupt his science class every day. His therapist has used time-out consistently, but the pattern continues. She suspects she may need assistance from Manny's parents. After class, she presents Manny with some choices.

"Manny, I've tried to help you stop disrupting for three weeks, but we haven't made much progress. Can we work this out between the two of us, or do we need some help from your parents?" Manny is sure he doesn't want his parents involved.

"I think we can work it out," he says.

"I hope so," says the therapist, "but if we can't, I'll have to schedule a conference with your parents." Now, the consequence for continued disruption is clear. All the therapist needs to do is follow through.

Sid, a tenth grader, knows it's not okay to wear a bandanna in class but does it anyway. When his therapist asks him to take it off, he refuses. She gives him some choices.

"You can put the bandanna away, or you can work it out with Mr. Clayborn, our vice principal," she says matter-of-factly.

"What would you like to do?" Sid knows what will happen if he has to deal with Mr. Clayborn. Reluctantly, he removes the bandanna.
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

Personal Reflection Exercise #12
The preceding section contained information about ways guidelines for using limited choices to avoid power struggles. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 26
What are four guidelines for using limited choices? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

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