Many parents understand the importance of helping their kids make good choices, but they are not sure how to go about it. This post is dedicated to those who want to promote their kids’ independence and help them develop an emotional backbone and confidence, but do not know how.
Accept choice as part of life
Be open and share with your kids stories about situations that have made it hard for you to make choices and how you have solved your dilemmas. It is very important for kids to understand that those situations are part of everyday life and our life is full of choices. Kids generally feel small and helpless and when they understand that you, their almighty parent, feel small and helpless sometimes, that you are not always sure what to do, that you are even afraid sometimes, it will help them be more tolerant towards their own difficult choices. If you talk to them about bad choices you have made and how you have grown from them, that will be of great service to your kids, because they will be able to learn from them too.
Be their inspiration
We make some of the choices in life because we know someone we trust and appreciate who has done (or is doing) something we think they have benefited from. Those people are an inspiration for us. Many kids see their parents as role models and inspiration, because they trust them.
Telling kids about your life will give them ideas and they will say, “I make this choice because something similar has happened to my dad and he solved it successfully that way”. It is very important to say, “It worked for me. I lived in different circumstances, but it may work for you too”. Remember not to impose your solutions. Think of their choice muscle, not your significance or your power muscle.
Let go of the perfect choice
Some people and their kids think there is such a thing as the perfect choice. Those people tend to talk about their good choices and are in denial of their bad ones. This is a tendency towards perfectionism and it promotes procrastination.
It is important for those parents to understand that not making a choice is a choice not to make a choice and when we do that, we put our life at the mercy of circumstances. The other side of this is being in constant regrets about bad choices. It is reasonable to be disappointed about choices you have made in the past, but since you cannot go back to the past and change them, you have to make the most of your choices, learn from them, move on and teach your kids to do the same.
If you want to help your kids, talk about good choices and bad choices. Tell them there is nothing in life we can have that does not require giving up something else and that waiting for the “right” choice to appear may take too long and they might miss opportunities to learn and grow. When you help your kids make choices, avoid using the words “good choice”, “bad choice” and “the right choice”. Do not say things like “I’m telling you, you will regret this”, “I’m telling you, you will never regret this” and “If you ask me…” (which implies you are using the power muscle).
This is the nature of choices. Only after we make them, we know if they were any good. Do not play fortuneteller, because you may be wrong and lose the trust of your child. You can say, “I believe…”, “From my experience…”, “I hope…” or “I wish…” Humility can do a lot for your credibility.
Pay attention to conflicts
Use protests as a sign it is about time to change something and give your kids more choice.
Some parents cannot tell when is a good time to give their kids more independence and let them make their own choices.
I think it is hard to tell mainly because there is no “right” time, as most kids are different and are ready to move forward towards their independence at different times. This does not make them problematic, it only means they need more time to practice.
A good sign the time has come is that there is a conflict. I believe that conflicts with kids are part of their journey to independence. Their protests are declarations of their desire to be respected and to have some form of independence. Even a 1-year-old who fights her mom when she feeds her is a declaration of independence.
This is a good time to start giving her choices with her food by saying, “Would you like the red spoon or the blue spoon?” “Would you like to hold the spoon yourself?” “Do you want Mommy to sing you the airplane song or the porridge song?” The impact of this is amazing.
Most conflicts with kids are a battle between the parents’ strong power muscle and the kids’ weak choice muscle. If the kids are OK with you making choices for them and you are happy with it too, make the choices for them, but if they are not happy, they will protest and if you are not happy, you will protest.
Join me next week for more techniques for teaching your kids about choice and helping them use their “choice muscle”.
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