Cooperation Begins with Trust

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Rethinking “Do as I Say!”:  Why Giving Children Choices Matters

Rethinking “Do as I Say!”: Why Giving Children Choices Matters

The ability to have choices over our own life is at the core of our well-being.

Often parents worry or complain that they cannot control their children, that children are constantly disagreeing or wanting to do things their own way.  I understand, not having to negotiate all the time and having compliant children certainly could make many parenting moments easier in the short term. However, in the long term forgetting to add flexibility into our parenting and not giving children responsibility through making choices results in so many lost opportunities. Here are just three things to consider:

Discouragement vs. Encouragement: A child that grows up with the belief that what he wants or needs doesn’t matter and that obeying orders is all that is expected of him, no matter what, will likely be very discouraged, deflated and lack self-initiative. Giving choices on the other hand is very encouraging;  when we give our children choices we are letting them know “I trust you and your ability to choose well.”

Squashing Creative Thinking: Children have so many ideas, often innovative, incredible and creative ideas. Letting children express these ideas is a wonderful opportunity not only for us to hear a new perspective but for them to develop their cognitive abilities and value their own thoughts. Through choice children can exercise creativity, flexibility, adaptability and creativity.

“Do as I say!” vs. Responsibility: Children learn to make intrinsically good decisions by having a chance to make and participate in the process. If parents always let the child know what do do and when to do it  a.k.a. “Do as I say!”  and “Because I said So!” the child will end up always looking for exact directions and approval. That sounds great right? Well, not really because ultimately, the child will not be equipped to make decisions on his own.  Children learn to make good decisions by having a chance to make and participate in decision, not just by following what parents tell them is the right thing to do.

As parents, our aim does not need be to control our children and it can be to equip them to make good choices. Yes it means there will be moments when we may need to negotiate, take an extra breath or try to see things from a different perspective, but really that helps us stay flexible and resourceful too!

Parenting while respecting our children’s need to make choices and supporting our children to be active participants in their own life isn’t about giving in to every whim or demand, but instead striking a balance and giving children a sense that they are loved, capable, trustworthy and that they matter.

Do we have to be smart about the choices we give our children? Absolutely! While children thrive on making choices, as parents, we do hold the responsibility to guide them and when needed to lead them towards appropriate choices. Resolving to involve children and give choices is not an invitation to be permissive, keeping children happy at all costs or overlooking safety so next week I’ll be talking about ways to encourage children to make good choices.

Peace & Be Well,