For many years, we have advised parents to encourage their children to make their own decisions. If you let your kid to solve their own issues (with your help) when they are young, their brain will develop the circuits required for resilience. Even minor control experiences engage the prefrontal cortex, conditioning it to react successfully to future difficulties.
Parents should regard themselves as establishing boundaries and acting as a sounding board or “consultant,” but they should also allow their children as much liberty as possible.
This will not only make their children smarter (see adage! ), but it is also the finest thing they can do to prevent their children from worry. Not feeling in control of your life turns out to be one of the most stressful things in the world.
As you may expect, our thesis raises a lot of issues. Here are some of the most common and how we react to them:
What kinds of choices may I delegate to my child?
It’s best to offer a preschooler a few options, whether it’s broccoli or spinach, dress-up or a puzzle, or what to wear to school. Even in more serious issues, children as young as six have shown that they can make judgments that are at least as excellent as those made for them by adults.
If you’re debating whether your kid should retake first grade, consult with him. A child will often propose a solution that neither parent has considered, such as “I believe I can continue on to second grade.” But, if the work becomes too difficult, may I hire a tutor?”
What if my kid refuses to make her own choices?
That’s even more motivation to get her to practice! You may do it softly so that decision-making becomes a goal rather than a requirement.
Assume your youngster can’t pick which book to buy at the bookshop. She’s tying herself up in knots about it and wants you to decide. “As you become older, I want you to feel secure making choices for yourself,” you may remark. I know it’s making you nervous right now, so I’m pleased to make the decision for you. But, before I do, tell me what your best option would be if you had to make it yourself.”
What if my children make terrible choices?
That’s all the more incentive to give them plenty of practice while you’re still around to assist them deal with the repercussions. Help them from making a wrong decision by assuring them that, in the end, it is their choice, but you must ensure that they have obtained all of the information they need to make an educated decision.
What are the advantages and disadvantages? Have they given it much thought? Also, what is their backup plan? What will they do if their choice does not go as planned?
What if they refuse to collect information?
If they are unwilling to make an educated choice, it is your decision, not theirs.
You seem to be suggesting that I allow them to eat chocolate cake for breakfast. Isn’t this the definition of lenient parenting?
Certainly not. Setting parameters is an important part of allowing children to make choices. You would not let a youngster to drive a vehicle just because he wants to, nor would you allow him to eat chocolate cake for breakfast.
As a parent, you are still in charge of your children’s safety and nourishment. “As your mother, I’m simply not comfortable letting you do this,” you may always say. I wouldn’t feel like a decent mother if I let you eat chocolate cake for breakfast.”
Our point is not to be a permissive parent, but rather that there are many choices we believe we must make for our children that we do not.
Where do I begin?
1. Tell your youngster, “You’re the authority on yourself.” Nobody knows you better than you know yourself, so after we’ve discussed it, the decision is yours.”
2. Make a list of everything your youngster wants to be in control of. Make a strategy to delegate responsibilities to him or her.
3. Tell your youngster about judgments you made that, in retrospect, were not the greatest. Explain how you were able to benefit from their experience.
4. Where feasible, emphasize logical consequences: Assume your youngster evaluates the pros and disadvantages and chooses not to bring her coat ice skating. If she complains about being chilly, don’t offer to buy her a coat or give her yours. She has the option of waiting inside where it is warm or skating faster to warm up. She made a decision and now must live with the consequences. We promise she’ll make better decisions the following time!
5. When revisiting or reviewing terrible actions, do it after the incident, not during it. If things aren’t going well, you might pose the question, “What do you think we can do now?” (But not in a panicked tone of voice, “What are you going to do now?!?”) You want to be calm, avoid blaming, and assist your kid in honestly examining and learning from errors. That can happen only if you view blunders as case studies rather than declaring, “I told you so.”