Like everyone else, kids like to and deserve the right to make choices. They are young, of course, so they can’t make all choices; that comes with time and experience. I strongly believe that it’s best to allow children to make as many decisions as is practical (notice I didn’t use the word possible). Even really small children should make decisions about things such as what they wear or eat – within reason, of course. I think a good idea is to limit the number of choices, and only offer realistic and sensible options. Some people might disagree, saying children have to learn to follow directions. It’s not an all or nothing thing, though. Yes, children do need to learn to follow directions, but is that what we want them to do throughout their entire lives – have others make all of their decisions for them? Of course not! Let them start with small, non-vital decisions so they will learn how to do so properly for the real issues as they get older. One way we do that here is that everyone chooses the dinner and dessert they want on their birthday. It was cute but a little sad that my kids were so surprised that they didn’t have to have cake as their birthday dessert if that’s not what they wanted! Sometimes people are denying themselves of choices and don’t even realize it.
A teacher of one of my children talked about “must dos” and “can dos”, and I loved that idea! I have taught my children that there are certain things that are non-negotiable – the “must dos”. They almost always comply without any hassle with these things because they know two things. One: there’s no room for flexibility because of the importance of those things. Two: they know that things that aren’t “must dos” are very much open to negotiation. My children trust that I will give them the freedom to make their own choices any time it makes sense, but they also know that I expect them to cooperate with the important things. It’s a bit of a struggle at first, but as long as you remain consistent and fair, children will learn how to make it work.
I think it’s also essential to explain things to them. They need to know why things are important. They’re not only more likely to follow the directions, but to continue to do things the right way once they’re out on their own. I tell my children that my ultimate goal is to make them someday not need me anymore. After all, isn’t that what parenting is all about? At first, you can just make a short statement, such as “it’s not safe to run out into the street; you can get hurt” in a tone that lets them know that you’re very serious, there’s no negotiation in that case, and there is a valid reason behind all of the rules. As they get older, the explanations can get more in depth at times to suit the subject and situation. It can also give you the chance to explain the reasons behind moral decisions to them so they are more likely to make better choices when confronted with difficult situations. The best way to make sure that your children make good decisions throughout life is to make sure they are informed, and see for themselves the logic and reasoning behind different choices.
I tell my children that smart people learn from their mistakes, but really smart people learn from others’ mistakes!
I attended a class once, and the instructor said that it’s best to let children make small mistakes when they are little, instead of having them make big mistakes when they get older. I agree!