Parenting children

The Myth of Giving Your Child Choices

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Ever find yourself giving your child play by play instructions on doing something that should be as simple and easy as eating apple pie? 

You know what I mean - things that you're sure your child knows how to do on their own, yet when it comes down to it, suddenly you find yourself having to tell them exactly what to do - otherwise they melt into a little pile of water just like the Wicked Witch of the West?

I found myself in this position the other day, when my seven and a half year old was in the shower. She'd already bathed and shampooed her hair, and was asking what she should do now.

Of course, this was after I'd gotten a blow-by-blow description of which body part she was washing, and how much the soap had lathered up, and...

Well. I'm sure you get the idea.

So when it came down to the last request, I must admit, I was feeling rushed, and a teensy bit annoyed. I mean, wasn't it obvious what you should do? Did I really have to tell her? Couldn't she figure it out on her own? Like, after you finish washing off everything there is to wash off, you just get out of the bath.

It doesn't seem like rocket science. I mean, she's only been taking a bath on her own for the last year and a half. I knew she was physically capable of everything she needed to be a successful bather.

Blame it on my own mule-headedness, blame it on scientific curiosity, but I refused to tell her what to do. I figured, how long would she stay there until she finally gave up and came out? She couldn't stay in there forever, right? 8 people, one bathtub -you do the math.

Let's just say it wasn't pretty.

Little Miss refused - or was completely unable, I haven't figured out which- to get out until I walked her through the whole decision making process:

Me: What do you do when you finish washing off all of your body?

Little Miss: I don't know! Tell me!!!

Me: Do you stay in the bathtub until it's time for school the next day? Do you sleep there? Should I bring you a pillow? (hoping humor would work - I wasn't feeling very humorous at all)

Little Miss: (Meltdown. Doesn't bear repeating).

So I did some thinking about choices, and what it means to be independent, and came to this conclusion: it doesn't matter one hoot if you give your child choices as long as those choices have no real consequences.

Typical parenting advice tells you "give your child lots of choices. Let them, for example, choose between two outifts and pick out what the want to wear the next day."

The problem with that is it's pretty much a non-choice. What difference does it make if they wear the red or the blue shirt? The blue jeans or the corduroy? The only time it really matters is if in a fit of pique your preschooler decides to wear pajamas to school.

Anyway, no mom in her right mind is going to let her child wear pajamas to school. In my house, that's a threat: "If you don't get dressed this minute you will go to school in your pajamas." So it's not like you could just let them experience the natural consequences of their choices. What would the teacher say?

I think for a lot of kids, making choices isn't always about knowing what to do, it's about having the courage to make the right choice - despite the consequences. And that goes right back to what I've been talking about lately: making sure your child understands that it's okay to fail.

Because if we want our child to be successful, to make the choices that will help them be successful, they've got to be willing to take that flying leap into nothingness. Sure, you can flinch a little - we all do - but that's just part of the process of doing what you need to do so you can get to the finish line.

Well, we're not at the finish line yet, my daughter and I. But we're on our way, somehow or another.


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  • Rachel Dec 16,2012 at 11:57 am

    Thanks LJ for stopping by!

  • Lawyer James Dec 14,2012 at 2:42 am

    I understand how you feel. I you think about the consequences more than the choice itself, you will always make a quality choice.

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