Building Better Families #13 – Are Your Children Ready to Make Their Own Choices?

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Matthew Kelly says in his book Building Better Families,

“Sooner or later your children are going to find themselves in situations where they have to decide for themselves.”

This is so true – I think the best piece of parenting advice I ever got was to give my children choices when they are young and keep it up until they are adults.

By training them to make their own small choices as toddlers, they begin to learn how to make the bigger choices as tweens and the life changing ones as teens and adults.

We started small – Do you want to wear this shirt or that shirt?

Provided more choices as they got older – Do you want chicken, hamburger or spaghetti for dinner?

Started providing open ended choices – What book should we read tonight?

Then even more – What do you want to do for fun this weekend?

I have written several articles in this series on the importance of the questions we ask our kids. This is another example of that.  By asking them what they want to do for fun that weekend we are assuming that

  1. We will do something together as a family
  2. We enjoy spending time with them
  3. We value their opinions

In fact our guiding principal when the kids were small was ‘what can we do to keep them away from television and the computer.'(This was before smart phones and Ipads.) As a former teacher, day care worker and nanny I am very aware of the effects of too much electronic exposure has on children. I wanted my children to have an actual childhood to remember – not a series of reruns.

We learned to manage our children’s behavior by giving them only the choices we can live with. Believe me – a 6 year old can create some interesting fashion choices if left to her own devices.

We tried to stay away from yes/no questions and consistently give them choices they could understand. This allowed them to learn to live with the consequences. When our oldest decided she wanted to try T-Ball and then changed her mind after the second game we didn’t let her quit. We required her to attend every game in season as it was only 8 weeks long. We didn’t make her play but she had to show up and cheer on her team. (We didn’t know at the time that she is autistic and was overwhelmed)  She never again signed up for a sport without trying it out first.

Unfortunately giving our children choices has resulted in a more difficult adolescence. Since they were given progressively more freedom to make choices at home, they see no reason they can’t be allowed to make those same types of choices at school. The school of course does not agree – but we are working through that. This is another life lesson – that different situations require different choices.

I am very proud of both of my children and while I am not a perfect parent I feel like my husband and I have done fairly well in raising our girls to become the intelligent, kind and caring people we hope they will be. We aren’t done yet -and perhaps the hardest years are before us, but I think we have laid a groundwork that will help everyone stay connected over the next 7 years.

It is time to change our focus.

Life is full of choices and we never stop making them – even as adults. Reminding ourselves of the consequences of those choices once in awhile will help us all work toward becoming the best version of ourselves.

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If you have missed the other articles in this series, here they are:

Start Here This article is about why I started this project in the first place.

Introduction I don’t always read the introductions to a book, but I am glad I read this one.

Chapter 1 When was the last time you were inspired by something?

Chapter 2 Enjoy your family right now.

Chapter 3 – Part 1 Parenting is not about 1 great success

Chapter 3 – Part 2 – What word do you measure your parenting success by?

Chapter 3 – Part 3 – Screaming is a good thing?

Chapter 3 – Part 4 – What stories are your children listening to?

Chapter3 – Part5 – What choices have you made?

Chapter 3 – Part 6 – What is my purpose?

Chapter 3 – Part 7 – What does accountability mean?

Chapter 4 – Part 1 – What is the most important question you can ask your child?

Chapter 4 – Part 2 – What is your passion?