As with most things in parenting, prevention is a better approach than putting out fires. Prevention is done when you are calm, cool and collecting, while putting out fires is always when things are heated and you and your kid are both emotional and confused. Teaching your kids techniques that will help them make good decisions quickly will make them more independent and ensure they will be able to fulfill their own needs. In return, this will reduce your parenting burden and make you more confident they can manage once they leave home.
Here are some more things you can do on a regular basis when you are relaxed that will help you send a message of respect to your kids and strengthen their “choice muscle”.
Some kids are afraid that because they cannot see a way out, they are stuck. We all get stuck when we do see no option that will get us out of a painful situation or get us to a desired situation.
That is OK, because thinking of options is a skill that needs to be taught. Ask your child, “What’s the worst that can happen?” or “What can go wrong?” or “Tell me the craziest solution you can think of”. It is important to think of options and while I suggest coming up with crazy things, I would like to emphasize you should aim for solutions, not problems. If you focus on endless possible problems, you are going to find them. Looking for many problems is a dangerous zone that may create more fear than help.
Sometimes, all kids need is a single idea. You can suggest things too, but make sure the child comes up with most of the ideas. If you want to lead them towards something, say things like, “How about…”, “What if…”, “Do you think doing …. could work?” “What do you think of this option?” Everything you say must be as a mature person, a helper and a mentor. If you try to push your solution, you are not helping, but weakening your child’s choice muscle.
Give time to think
When you suggest something, give your child time to think about it. If you expect an immediate decision, you are pushing. Pushing the choice muscle will not make it strong but weak.
It is very important to tell your kids they do not have to make immediate decisions. If we push our kids to make decisions quickly, we give them a message that every choice is a “life or death” decision. This is not good. They should never have that feeling. The choices we make are not perfect either and we often work on them for a while. By the time our kids need to make a decision like whether to risk of driving through a red light, their choice muscle will be so strong they will resist the temptation once they get to a red light, but that takes time and practice.
To help kids think about their choices without pressure, say, “I think it’s a good idea to sleep on these ideas”, “Take some time to think about this and we can continue tomorrow”, or, “I suggest that you think about it for a while before you make your decision”.
I use this technique for many things my kids want and I started at an early age. If they want to study a musical instrument, get a haircut, paint their room or register for a new class, I say, “Think about it for a week”. If they come back in a week, I know they have thought about it, but if not, I know it was not that important. That is OK!
Basic pros and cons
Making a choice is a matter of weighing the pros and cons of the options you see in front of you. This is a learned skill that is good to teach from an early age. Kids must understand that most choices are not 100% good or 100% bad. Every choice has advantages and disadvantages.
The simplest technique is just writing down the pros and cons separately, counting each side and comparing the numbers. This process helps kids see with their own eyes which options has more good points than bad points. Take a piece of paper and write things down. Often, when you write down the pros and cons, that is enough to convince yourself. Do not be tempted to do everything in your head. When we do not write things down, we allow our subconscious to erase things we do not want to remember or deal with.
Advanced option weighing technique
Sometimes, just listing the pros and cons is not good enough, because some considerations have a higher value than others. For example, your son wants to join a basketball team that practices on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. He cannot make up his mind whether he is willing to give up other things for this, such as going to parties that happen on Saturday, going to the beach with your family or inviting friends to sleep over on Friday night.
This is when you give the considerations weights. Some considerations are more important to you than others are and it is good to know what these are. So if there are 6 things to consider, you can rank the categories from 1 to 6 (1 being the least important and 6 being the most important). Then, you fill in the form, giving 0 points for “no” and 1 point for “yes” to each consideration in each option.
When you are done, multiply the 1s by the importance and add up the scores for each option. Using a proper weight system, this example shows that going to basketball will be the best choice for your child.
|Consideration||Importance||Basketball||No basketball||Basketball||No basketball|
|Sleep in on Saturday||2||No||Yes||0||2|
|Play with friends||6||Yes *||Yes||6||6|
|Go to the beach||1||No||Yes||1||1|
|Playing basketball||4||Yes||No **||4||0|
* I play with my basketball friends
** I may play some basketball during school breaks
I use this technique when I make big decisions and even with my clients (who are not young kids) when they need to make hard decisions. Quantifying the importance is a very good way of taking the emotions out of making a choice.
I learned a version of this technique from one of my inspiring teachers. One of my Special Education professors said that teachers tend to give extra points to their favorite students (yes, I know, it is not something you like to find out, but it is true – it is only human to give discounts to the people you like and teachers are just human). To get over this, she came up with a weighing system and designed a marking system that was made of 10 to 20 items (that is a lot, because most teachers use only 3: exam, participating in class and homework, and if they use more than one exam, that makes a huge difference in their grading). This is very easy to do with percentages. You have 100% and divide it between scoring categories by their level of importance (which you can easily teach older kids to do). Well, this does not mean you will not give extra points to your favorite students, but when the extra point is 1% of 7%, it is not a lot and your favoritism in under control.
This technique is great for choosing work, profession, what university subjects to study, friends, a suitable school and, I dare say, even a partner. You rate what is important to you and find out if this person gets to the level you expect. Remember, 100% is not possible!
Independent kids are not born, they are made. I know many parents who struggle with their kids when an easy shift from showing power to supporting their kids’ choice muscle could have made their life much better. Do you know how much trouble you can save if you teach your kids to be independent and prepare their own lunch box?
Noff has been making her own sandwiches since she was 4 years old. We would give her a blunt spreading knife and a plate with bread and she put her own spread on it. When she wanted a chocolate drink, she could climb on a chair, take the chocolate powder and pour herself some milk. Yes, it was messy at first, but she did not need us to fulfill her needs, because she could do lots of that herself. She is 10 years old now and she is in charge of many dishes that we make for dinners. If Gal and I had to be away from home, our kids would make themselves a feast every day.
Raising independent kids is helpful in many ways. Eden, who is our eldest, is the most independent in our family, because she has had the most time to practice. She slept over when she about 6 months old, she flew to the other side of the world on her own when she was 10 years old. When we brought a babysitter to take care of the younger kids, she used to host the babysitter. Every time we came back home, the babysitter would say, “Eden babysat me until she went to sleep”. She asked her if she wanted anything to eat or to drink and, served her cookies and showed her how to make herself another cup of tea. She showed her how to use the TV and the VCR, where the toilet was and when to give Tsoof his bottle (when Tsoof was a baby). When she was awake, Eden used to change his diapers herself and went to sleep when she knew the babysitter was fine. As you would expect, the transition to not having a babysitter was easy. Practice had made it better and easier.
Total independence happens the second your kid leaves the house and no longer needs your financial support. No kid on Earth, no matter how old, can do it well without practice, without making mistakes and without learning from their own choices. They need time and the more time they have to make those choices in a safe environment, when Mom and Dad can help them, guide them and teach them techniques and opportunities, the better they will be at it.
Life is full of choices and as a parent, you have the luxury of raising independent kids. All you have to do is … choose!
This post is part of the series Kids' Declaration of Independence:
- Kids’ Declaration of Independence: The Choice Muscle
- Kids’ Declaration of Independence: How to Give Choices
- Kids’ Declaration of Independence: Opportunities
- Kids’ Declaration of Independence: Teaching about Choice
- Kids’ Declaration of Independence: Decision Techniques