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Helping Our Kids Choose

RemoteWhen do you switch over from TELLING kids to do (or not do) something to having them make the decision for themselves?  Obviously it varies based on their ages and the topic at hand, but ultimately, isn’t that what we are going for?  To have our children CHOOSE:  to read a book instead of play a video game, to skip dessert because they are already full, to step in and help someone without being asked, to use their good manners on a daily basis no matter where they are, etc.

A friend was telling me about the new system she has implemented after being inspired by the book Lighting Their Fires. Every day her children are “screen-time” free, they get a star on a chart.  The stars add up and they are able to earn a reward (right now it’s a trip to Michael’s to pick out some sort of art/craft project – a recommendation from the book to help not only with fine motor skills and patterning but delayed gratification as well).  If they come to her and ask to watch TV, she might suggest alternative ideas of things they could do or remind them how close they are to earning a prize.  But ultimately, she has it set up as their decision.  What are they going to learn if she tells them flat out no screen time?  But if they are the ones making the decision, just think of what they are teaching themselves and how empowering ultimately it must be.

My friend told me she is not against screen time per ce, and certainly doesn’t want to tell her kids they can never watch TV again.  It’s all about moderation.  Another mom, First Lady Michelle Obama, feels the same.  In this week’s People Magazine, she talks about moderation being the key in her opinion:

“We don’t have a ‘no junk food’ rule – I just want them to think about their choices. When my older daughter asks, ‘Can I have pie?’ I’ll say, ‘Did you have it yesterday? Well, what do you think?’ And she’ll come to the conclusion that, ‘You know, you’re right, I shouldn’t eat pie every night.”

I too hate getting into hard and fast rules about things (well, some things).  You can only makes rules for so long.  As hard as it is for some of us with younger kids to believe, children grow up and get to a point where they make the decisions in their lives.  At that point, you had better hope they have had the experience of doing it previously – hopefully starting with the little things and gradually gaining confidence in their abilities, so that when the big things come along, they are more equipped to respond appropriately.

Kids get to a point where they are the ones choosing what goes into their bodies, what they do in their free time, and how they treat others and the world around them.  How they respond directly correlates to how we have raised them.  It makes sense that in the beginning (when they are young) there are a lot of rules to follow.  As they get older though, perhaps a portion of those rules are now put forth as choices – so kids learn to contemplate their choice with the consequence of their behavior.

We all know of the college freshmen who go crazy once they have no one telling them when to be home or when to wake up, or how they can’t go out until their term papers are done.  Yet, without having learned discipline or responsibility, they ultimately flounder — and sadly, many crash and burn when they should have been soaring high.

Just like my friend, this Zen Mama Wannabe is trying to think up ways to help my children learn how to make good decisions.  I too feel I need some systems in place – though where I struggle most of all is in thinking up these systems (so that they are doable, make sense, and effectively tackle the issue we are dealing with). It takes time to come up with a well-thought out plan, and then energy in keeping it going (two things I feel are often lacking in my life at any given moment).  But, I certainly won’t give up.  I’m going to choose to keep trying – after all, isn’t it too important to do anything but?

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6 Responses to “Helping Our Kids Choose”

  1. callieandbatido Says:
    September 29th, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Just the other day, my 15 year old daughter was trying to decide whether or not to join an after school club and if she thought she could manage it with her school work and other activities. She was getting very frusrated, as the dead line to decide was the following day and she wasn’t sure what to do. She wanted me to tell her what to do. While I listened to her many thoughts on the subject and even offered some input, this is her decission, not mine. In total frustration she yelled, “It would be so much easier if I had parents that told me what to do sometimes!”

    My reply, “yes, I am sure it would be easier but I happened to have raised a very smart, self aware young lady that can make her own decissions.” She just stomped off.

    Ultimately she decided to give it a try. I am anxious to hear how it went today when she gets home. But either way, it was her choice and ultimately her experience.

  2. Zen Mama Wannabe Says:
    September 29th, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    You made me think….maybe helping kids learn to make their own choices isn’t just empowering for the kids; maybe it’s good training for parents too (especially those of us who want to sweep in far too often). Boy, who knew this parenting business was such hard work!!

  3. LarkLady Says:
    October 1st, 2009 at 7:07 am

    I sympathize with both mother and daughter in Callieandbatido’s situation: sometimes it’s a lot easier to have the decision made for us! But a technique I’ve used is to ask my child, “If I told you you should [sign up for the after school activity or whatever the choice to be made is], how would you feel? Happy? Relieved? Angry? Now — if I told you NOT to [whatever the choice is], how would you feel? Sorry? Happy? Angry?” Generally they know what their decision should be — they simply can’t get through the anxiety of making the choice.

    The harder dynamic in our family has been that the younger daughter has made choices both earlier in her life and better than her older sister. Part of that is very likely learning by observing her sister; part of it is her personality… she cares about the consequences of her choices far more and so takes them into consideration; the older one lives much more in the moment and chooses to deal with the consequences when they arise — always hoping for a miracle to intervene so there won’t be a negative consequence. It makes it harder to watch, especially when it takes repetition for her to really learn the natural consequences of a choice.

    Parenting truly is not for wimps!!

  4. callieandbatido Says:
    October 4th, 2009 at 6:27 am

    And then there is always the issue of empowering them to make their own choices, like choosing the art project over TV time….. But what if they consistently choose TV time and never the art project? Is it really their choice?

  5. Zen Mama Wannabe Says:
    October 4th, 2009 at 8:48 am

    I was JUST thinking about that the other day – that maybe my kids weren’t ready to make choices, because one of mine WOULD choose screen time over art projects (or anything else) every single time. Which isn’t acceptable to me. So when do you let them choose? When they are old enough to make good decisions (at least most of the time)?? Do you start with the little things and save the big things (whatever those issues are for your child) for when you feel they can handle it?

    And when do you step in and HELP instead of letting a child flounder while you call it “letting them choose”? We’ve all seen parents like that – and in my experience, lassez-faire parenting really isn’t too effective either.
    (Where is the parenting manual for situations like these??) 🙂

  6. callieandbatido Says:
    October 6th, 2009 at 8:46 am

    For our kids to learn the importance of making good choices, they have to be allowed to make bad ones as well as good ones and learn from both. In the case of TV vs. art project, there really was never a choice as watching a lot of TV was never an option.

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