We’ve all been there…you ask you kids what color they want to paint their room and the answer makes you cringe. So, how can you let them choose a paint color without cringe-worthy results? Guide their choices.
Welcome to the second post in the Decorating With Kids series. Today we are going to talk about choosing paint colors with kids.
Color is very important to me. I love my colorful home. I want my kids to be comfortable and excited by color. I want them to confidently choose colors. I am starting them young. My oldest (turning 6 later this summer) just helped choose the final wall paint color for the playroom.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Take Them to the Paint Store
Taking your kids to the paint store to choose paint colors is a big no-no in my book. Here’s why:
- You probably aren’t comfortable with any color they might choose, so why would you put them in front of all those colors?
- If they choose a color you don’t like and you tell them in the store, you will likely hurt their feelings and might end up with a tantrum in the paint aisle.
- You are simply going to overwhelm them. I mean, I get overwhelmed looking at a wall of paint swatches.
I think Mari, from Small for Big, put it best when she answered the question “Are there any techniques you use for limiting choices to allow your kid(s) to help make decorating decisions, like choosing paint colors or fabrics?”
For me, I love including Birdie, but to allow my own design likes and dislikes to also shine through, I go with the old limited choice approach. Just like when she was a toddler and we’d ask: do you want apples or strawberries? Now, I try to pick out things I think we’ll both like, and then give her the chance to make a choice from that limited selection. Otherwise, everything would be pink, glitter, and probably covered in fairies!
Limited choices people! Because we don’t want everything covered in pink, glitter, and fairies.
Give Them Limited Choices
Instead, you should pre-select colors for them to choose from. Go to the paint store by yourself and select no more than 5 paint colors you approve for the room. Try to limit it to no more than 5. If you can’t narrow the choices down to 5 or less, how can you expect your kids to narrow it down to one?! Since we have a pre-determined whole house color palette, I chose 5 paint colors from those we already use in our house.
The rules for letting kids choose paint colors:
- You pre-select 3-5 colors and put only those swatches in front of your kids at home.
- Do not try to sway them or second guess their choice. You are trying to help them learn how to confidently make decisions and to show them you respect their input.
- Whatever color they choose from those 3-5 is the color you use. Period.
Even Kids Have Choice Paralysis
Sometimes kids of a certain age or personality type are hesitant to make choices. Sometimes we as parents never give them choices to make, so they aren’t sure what to do when they are confronted with one. So, what if they are stuck or have choice paralysis? Or, like my son at age 5, who wants me to say my choice first so he can copy it? Here are some tips for eliciting a decision.
- Quick draw: Ask them to point to their favorite color as quick as they can. This is one way to keep them from over-thinking their decision. This works best if you ask them to do it right away after revealing the swatches.
- Ask them to eliminate 1-2 colors they don’t like by flipping them over. Again, it might help to ask them to do it as fast as they can, so they don’t over-think it too much. Sometimes it is easier to choose what you don’t like than what you do. This will at least help get the choice down to 3.
Getting multiple kids to agree on one color is a sticky situation. If possible, work with one kid at a time. If they don’t choose the same color, then you are the tie breaker.
Once you have narrowed down to 3 choices, even if your kid is convinced they picked the perfect color, it is important to sample the paint. My son was set on the dark blue from the beginning, but then he started to second-guess himself saying there were two colors he liked. I think it might have been three…see him below pointing to two colors while gazing at a third. So we moved onto big samples.
Make Big Paint Samples
A great way to make color selection more interactive, is to help them see the color in the room. This is one part art project and one part decision-making exercise.
Cut up a piece of poster size foam core into four pieces. Let the kids paint each piece with a different color sample. Don’t worry if it is messy or sloppy, but encourage them to cover one entire side of the board.
I prefer this method over painting swatches on the wall, because:
- it is easier for kids to paint the boards over a drop cloth
- the boards are easily moved around the room
- it becomes more of a game to see which one looks best on every wall in the room
Once the boards are dry, take them to the room to be painted. Ask the kids to look at the large samples in the room. The large samples make it easier for them to visualize how the color might look on the wall. (Note: We were choosing color for the playroom here, which has no natural light. I recreated our process in the family room for photographs)
Encourage them to move the samples around to different parts of the room to see how the color changes with the light. And, sometimes they might need to sleep on it. My son actually chose to lay down while evaluating his options.
During this exercise you can ask the same questions as above to help them choose a color. Ask them to quickly point to a favorite or ask them to eliminate the colors they don’t like. With the large samples, we immediately eliminated the lightest color, because it did not have enough contrast with the white. (See my playroom sneak peek on Instagram to understand why contrast is important for this space.)
In the end, my son stuck with his first instinct. He chose Azurite by Martha Stewart for his pirate-themed playroom. He said it was the most like the ocean…I agreed.
The bottom line is don’t be afraid to let your kids make decisions. By doing some pre-work to guide their choices you can allow them to make decorating decisions. It will boost their confidence and you will still get a color palette you approve of. As you can imagine, this same technique works for other color selections as well, like fabric colors.
Sherry, from Young House Love, has had success with the limited choices approach for choosing drapes in her daughter’s bedroom.
I’ve heard the “give them specific options” tip if you’re afraid your child will request something that’s out of your comfort zone (ex: if you’re willing to paint their bedroom walls a bright color, but don’t want them to say “I want black walls!” you could try pulling a bunch of paint swatches in fun bright colors that you know they’ll love – and that you don’t mind either – and asking them to pick one). In our case, just asking questions like “what colors would you like in your room?” and even “what fabric do you like?” have been awesome though. Clara actually picked the drapes in her new room and they look awesome. At age three she has officially surpassed me in the design arena. Haha!
I Love This Kid…Silly Outtakes
Before you go, I want to share the best part about decorating with kids…spending more time with them! I had so much fun with my son. His silliness came out and I captured these funny outtakes:
Focus, buddy. I need you to choose a color.
Whoa…too much focus. I didn’t know making color choices was so maddening.
Naturally, after this exercise your kids might beg you to help paint the room. If you are ready to hand them a brush or roller, read my tips on painting walls with kids.
I want to leave you with a great related tip, from Jenna at SAS Interiors, on limiting choices for kids art, so you can coordinate it with a specific room.
In the past when working on a project where I have something specific in mind and want to use certain colors, I have given them crayons, markers, and/or paint that fits within the setting. For their bathroom makeover, I wanted my son to create a pretty canvas painting to display, so I gave him the wall color paint along with a few coordinating colors. I don’t see a problem with honing them in to create something special yet in the end the result fits the look you want / need.
I was cracking up at the outtakes of your son. He makes the same faces my 5 year old does in front of the camera. Thanks for the helpful tips. I’ve been putting off painting my son’s room because I didn’t want to get into a power struggle around color choices. It’s such a good reminder to narrow it down just like we parents do with our kids all the time. I am loving the color your son chose (let him know) and can’t wait to see it in his pirate themed room.
Lisa, 5 year old pictures are priceless. We had to do picture retakes at school with our son, because the first go around he looked like he was in pain. The retakes were worse…it looked like he was going to the bathroom. Telling a 5 year old to “smile” is the worst thing to do!
Oh I was that first grade teacher who just loved those sincerely them, faces…that as a teacher I felt a bit protective of my “kids” for I was afraid the parent would say they didn’t look good enough (well…I was their mother hen and I just loved these non model photos for being natural…and well, I told them as I gave them the photos how wonderful the pic was!). It was always the same…the second photo it was like they got shy, a bit who knows…and yes, not as the parent wanted…but I think over time, it will just endear you to your kids more. Especially now that photos are digital, they do the retakes on the spot so there’s less of those hope we got it pics…Mi don’t know if I explain myself well, but from a teacher’s view, we TOO love your kids and are straightening collars and using wipes and a comb to help loose hairs lie down..and it’s so quiet before and then after? That’s when the kids all giggled and smiled as they waited for their classmates to be done!
Great post. So fun. (Our dining room should be finished this month so expect “after” pics by August! Yay!)
My youngest is almost 7 and autistic. For the first 4 years of his life he couldn’t communicate his preferences, but now he’s all about telling me what he likes, so I had him choose the color for his dresser and for his bedroom walls. He did a great job and loves to tell people he picked out the colors :D
Claudia, That is so wonderful! What a great story!
I like this idea for kids. I mean, I did it with vegetables! I don’t care about the psychology behind it, even though I’m sure there are books on all this…I just love that parents care enough to talk to their kids…teach them starting small, how to make choices and then just enjoy the process of watching it all. It’s just so nice to see kids enjoying life! Paint, Popsicles, polliwogs or peas for supper…plus a good story and tucked in loving his room=A+ in this teacher’s book :-)
Jenna, SASinteriors.net says
OMG, your son is so adorable! It looks like you both had a lot of fun choosing colors. Thanks so much for including me in this series. xo Jenna
Thank you Jenna. Love the tip about limiting their colors for art projects!
[email protected] Off Please says
Ha, we always try the “limit the options” trick and my son has outmaneuvered us! If I show him two options, he chooses a third! Ah, well at least he liked the paint color we chose for his room :)
It’s always fun to get the kids involved on projects like this. Choosing their own colors gives them a certain responsibility and freedom as well. Great post!