Empowering Children with Choices

Certainly there comes a point in our children’s lives where we need them to take on some added responsibility for themselves. Sometimes this happens naturally: Our child suddenly wants to be a “big kid” and do things for himself. As my son used to put it when he was 1 year old, “Me…do it…own!” The age in which young children want to do tasks and chores on their own is wonderful, isn’t it? The newness of their independence and capabilities is so exiting. It is the age of autonomy.

Then comes the next phase: After children’s realization of their sense of autonomy comes their developing sense of initiative. It’s a difference of realizing what children can do versus what they choose to do. Suddenly, parents find themselves nagging when they once had to simply suggest clean-up as a fun game. We become engaged in power struggles and start to dread the moment when we must announce that it’s time to stop playing and put the toys away because we’re very aware of the response we’ll get.

It is important that parents take care not to enable children during this stage, thus discouraging their developing sense of initiative, but to empower them. When we empower our children, they realize their capabilities and begin to learn valuable life skills. American parent educator Kelly Bartlett asks us to consider the following examples of statements regarding clean up time, as posted on The Attached Family online magazine…

The Power Of Choice

Imagine a day in which you had no say in what you did. Someone else decided when you got out of bed, what clothes you would wear, and what you ate for breakfast. Someone else dictated when you played, what you played with, and for how long. Someone else chose where you went that day, when you had your meals, and when you slept. Someone else instructed you on how to behave, what things you could and could not touch, and what you watched on TV.

P1210167Now imagine how you’d feel at the end of such a day. After being bossed around and having all your decisions made for you, wouldn’t you want to flex your muscles and have a say?

At my children’s preschool, we talk a lot about how important it is to allow children to make choices. It’s important for many reasons. First of all, a child can’t learn how to make decisions on their own if they’ve never been allowed to do it before. Secondly, presenting children with choices and encouraging them to weigh their options is a powerful tool when it comes to self discipline, self esteem, and restraint, all of which are valuable lessons when it comes to such issues as drugs, alcohol and sex. In other words, letting your toddler choose her own clothes can help equip her to make the right choices when peer pressure kicks in years later.
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