As parents we all want our children to grow up to be confident and empowered members of society. We begin the role of molder and guide before they are born. Their very life depends on how well we manage their care. And somehow, eighteen years later, we have to release them into the world fully equipped to manage themselves well. When my daughters were growing up, I gave them many opportunities to make age appropriate decisions for themselves that ranged from choosing their outfit as a preschooler to what car to buy as a teenager. So long as it wasn’t life altering it taught them how to choose well. Now as adults they’ve made excellent choices for themselves. They manage their money well, have great jobs, married great people, and are loving and giving to the world around them. They also trust their ability to make decisions and are fantastic leaders in their fields.
How do we work ourselves out of the management job of our kids’ lives in these few years we have with them before they leave our nest of safety? Here are two ways to teach your child to make good choices.
1. Let them make mistakes so they can learn through failure while still in our care.
Some of our own greatest moments of personal growth came through experiencing the folly of immature choices gone awry. It’s tough to not step in and fix things for our kids to help them avoid the consequences of poor choices. But the failure of these poor choices is a tremendous teaching tool. Begin when they’re toddlers navigating the distance between the couch and the coffee table when learning to walk. Don’t step in if they’re not in danger. Falling on their backside will teach them how to improve next time. And as they get older, money is a great way to learn improvement through failure. I used to give my kids a daily food allowance when we went on vacation. Each day I would give them an allotted amount to budget for their food for the day. It only took a couple of times of spending too much on something frivolous earlier in the day to learn the value of budgeting for dinner. Watching your sister eat a burger and a milkshake while you can only afford fries and a glass of water is an invaluable lesson in money management.
2. Give them options.
Even if the choice is of little consequence they will feel empowered when they get to be the one to decide things for themselves. Some of these choices might be, “Red cup or blue cup?” “Would you like me to read to you before you brush your teeth or after?” “Would you like to play your video game for ten more minutes or take your shower now?” These kinds of choices teach your child that their opinion matters and that you believe in their ability to manage themselves. When my children reached middle school age I allowed them to decide their own bedtimes. Provided they had a good attitude the next day and got good grades in school they could go to sleep whenever they wanted. They were required to go to their room and stay there by a certain time each night but when to fall asleep was their choice. It was hard at first because I knew they would stay up way too late and be really tired for school. But it only took a few times before they discovered on their own the value of a good night’s sleep. Before long they would send themselves to bed with a cheery, “Good night Mom!” Gone were the days of fighting with them to go to bed at a certain time.
Letting go of managing all of our kids’ choices can feel uncomfortable. Watching them make brilliant choices as adults is worth uncomfortable moments along the way. As they see your belief in their ability to make choices their confidence will grow and the potential for them to ask for your input in really big decisions will increase. Your belief in your children directly affects their belief in themselves.
How do you teach your children to make good choices?