Imagine this: Timmy, your sensitive, inflexible child struggles to make good choices. He is prone to big feelings and meltdowns. One afternoon he asks you to go the playground.
You brace yourself for a meltdown when you explain that you can take him tomorrow. You continue to explain that today you’re in the middle of laundry and it’s almost dinnertime so you can’t go today.
Instead of collapsing in tears, Timmy says “I have the power to choose! What should Timmy do? Have a tantrum or just go to the park tomorrow?”
Timmy continues, “I know! Go to the park tomorrow.” And bounces off to play with his brother.
This happened in my family a few weeks ago, and it can happen in yours, too.
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What Should Danny Do book
A few weeks ago, our family was introduced to the book What Should Danny Do by the school speech pathologist. My kindergartener wanted to get a copy of the book for our home and after seeing the glowing reviews online, we bought it.
Danny, the main character in the book, is a school-aged child who faces the conflicts and decisions many children face. He experiences arguments with his sibling, faces a meal time disappointment, has a conflict over taking turns, and many additional challenges. Danny’s parents, however, have taught him he has a superpower: the power to choose.
What Should Danny Do is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you didn’t read those back in the 80s like me, they were an interactive type of book where the reader is presented with two choices at end of every section of the book. The choices the reader makes impacts direction of the story.
In What Should Danny Do, Danny faces two choices after every conflict or obstacle. One choice has positive or neutral consequences and the other choice leads to a negative natural consequence. As Danny makes a choice, he learns how his decisions shape his day. Likewise his young readers also learn about choices right alongside of Danny as they read this book.
As soon as the Amazon truck delivered this book to our house, my daughter tore through it. We were blown away by her level of engagement and the immediate application she made when she encountered a difficult situation the same afternoon.
Why does What Should Danny Do work?
This book is effective for many reasons. First, Danny is relatable to most kids and the book is well-illustrated and engaging. Danny also enjoys many of the activities that other children enjoy doing: he imagines he’s a super hero with superpowers, and he likes to play video games, race toy cars, and go to the park.
Second, the book makes explicit to children that the readers have the “Power to Choose.” This is a huge leap in cognitive development and emotional competence for many children (and adults!).
Many children have never considered that when a challenge occurs in the day, they have the control to decide how to handle it. For example, children learn that when they can’t use their preferred breakfast plate, they can melt down or choose to say “oh well.” This is a huge leap to learn that they are not inevitably subject to emotional responses over daily frustrations.
Third, the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure format is effective in it’s interactive component. It allows children to see the natural consequence of their choices. Similarly, they can see the chain reactions of making several different poor choices in a row. Likewise, they can also observe and experience how there is always redemption for a bad day.
Fourth, this book demystifies emotional triggers for children prone to inflexibility. When they see in full color on the pages that Danny chooses to have a tantrum over breakfast, children can run a type of cost-benefit analysis over his emotional reaction. While Danny is relatable, he is also external from the reader. Observing his reactions is less personal and intense. Thus, the reader’s brain is more emotionally ready to learn and to build a little more self-control.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, this book recognizes the inherent power within each of our children. Ultimately, we want our children to know we believe in their intrinsic ability to do good in the world. Danny’s parents do not shame or judge him. They recognize his competence and affirm his ability to do the right thing.
Use the Power to Choose mantra at home
To apply the lessons from What Should Danny Do at home, you first need a copy! Either buy the What Should Danny Do book or check it out from your local library. Plan to read it with your child at least a dozen times and encourage your child to let Danny make some poor choices along with good choices. Without mentioning your child’s behavior, ask for your child’s thoughts on the stories.
Then listen. And listen some more.
Next, start using the mantra, “You have the power to choose.” Substitute your child’s name like “Timmy has the Power to Choose.” Start using it for choices of no consequences like which type of breakfast your child wants.
“Timmy, you have the Power to Choose. Do you want Cheerios or scrambled eggs?”
Apply the Power to Choose to behavior at home
Once you’ve developed the habit of reminding the child that he or she has the power to choose, start thinking of the emotional outburst or behavioral triggers for your child at home.
It is turning off electronics? Sharing with a sibling? Doing a chore? It might help to jot down a few of the triggers for your child so you make it explicit to yourself.
Watch for the next trigger and lead with the mantra that your child has the power to choose. Let’s say your child is prone to meltdowns over having to do chores. When it’s time to unload the dishwasher, preface your directions with “Timmy, you’re having fun building with Legos and you have the Power to Choose. It’s time to empty the dishwasher. What should Timmy do?”
If your child needs or wants more support, you can give choices. For example, you could say, “Timmy could have a big meltdown or Timmy could ask to play Legos for two more minutes then do the dishes. What should Timmy do?
Practice this multiple times across various challenging situations for your child and note the growth you see.
Make sure to praise and celebrate your child each time you notice he or she uses the Power to Choose at home.
Superpower to Choose free printables
Of course, I’ve made printable posters to share with you, reader! The posters print on standard 8.5x 11″ printer paper but serve as reminders for your child and you.
Each poster has two blank lines where your child or you can print his or her name and affirm your child is also a super kid like Danny and has the power to choose.
The super kids also have speech bubbles saying they have the superpower to choose. This is meant to be a mantra that leads to self-direction for your child.
There are children of different genders and ethnic backgrounds in the printable file. Please leave a comment if you’re looking for another ethnic background or differently-abled super kid – we want all children to be included and represented at Printable Parents.
Once you’ve downloaded the file, choose to print the page from your print dialog box that you feel is most relatable to your child. Alternatively, you can print them all and place them all over your house as reminders.
Teaching children that they have power over their emotional responses and behavioral choices is one of the most important skills we can teach as parents. Get a copy of What Should Danny Do, start affirming your child’s ability to choose, and use our printable posters to support your child and you.
Download the printable here.