I did an interview with Josh Becker of Dadstreet for my #4LDads category in June. During that interview I asked about advice that worked well for him with his kids. He mentioned giving his little girl choices—letting her choose her path to what they both knew to be a fixed end result.
To my surprise, the concept really didn’t get the comments and questions I thought it would. I assume there are two possible reasons for this: a) everybody already knows this technique works and uses it frequently or b) several readers were probably embarrassed that they did NOT know this works and did not want to put it out there. (Yes, I know there is an option c, but I know a lot of people read it, so that’s not it.)
Here is why it concerns me that people didn’t comment or inquire:
If you aren’t actively doing this with your children, you are setting them up for failure.
Yes, I just told you that you are raising your children wrong. I don’t normally do that, nor do I make any claim that I know better than you or am a better parent than you. I don’t and I’m not, so we can move past those assumptions.
I hear two common arguments when I discuss this empowerment of choice concept with people:
‘They do not know what is best for themselves.’
*Ding! Ding!* Nobody does. If you hear that claim, you can immediately write those people off and move on. The thing you must understand is that you aren’t letting them become little anarchists by giving them the option of ‘you can do this or you can choose to do that.’ You’re actually helping them develop necessary deductive reasoning skills and opening up new neural pathways. (That’s my only big word in this post, promise!) You are not giving up control of them, you are simply allowing them to choose the way they want to get to the finish line.
I speak from experience when I say there is a massive difference in the levels of responsibility, maturity, and overall intelligence between children that are given opportunities to think about their next move and encouraged to decide for themselves what route to take and ones who are not afforded these choices. Even simple things, for instance, Josh’s example of ‘you can stay and play in the bath or get out and draw,’ are a big decision for a child; and they learn to look for and weigh their options carefully. Sure, they may often choose the least favorable path, but experience is the best teacher. If they didn’t care for the way they went about doing something, they now know not to choose that path again. No matter what, it’s a win/win for them in the long run. (Ha! Bathe or draw…things were much simpler when we were young, were they not?)
‘It doesn’t matter what I try to do, they still won’t listen.’
Look hard at that statement and tell me what you see wrong? Give up? ‘It doesn’t matter what I try to do’ — How old are they? How many things have you tried? Better yet, where is the consistency?
Children absorb everything around them. How many times have you heard that kids are sponges? Even sponges have a max limit. Soak up too much and they no longer function properly. They leak. Stuff drips. It’s no different with a child. They are learning so much, so rapidly, that they cannot process it all. If you don’t have a consistent system built for them to follow, it adds confusion and chaos. They already can’t process the stuff they need to know, and now you are placing them on uneven ground. They don’t know what to expect. Corrective methods change too frequently, you become inconsistent, they don’t know what the outcome actually is that they are trying to get them to. It doesn’t have to be the perfect solution; it just has to be consistent. (Was it really that simple during our childhood? Maybe not.)
Consistency is key. Find a method and stick with it. Humans take approximately two weeks of steady exposure to something new before they become acclimated. Whether it be a new job, new climate, or a new concept is irrelevant. Use the method or schedule for at least that long and let your child get used to it. Be steadfast and hold them accountable, then, when they settle in, slowly introduce the power of choice. I guarantee they will benefit from it.
What do you think? Have you used these techniques with your kids? How did it work for you? What would you have done differently?
Fork in the road image retrieved from https://thriveable.com/fork-in-the-road/