Children and Choices: Smart or Overrated?


She says: When our children were toddlers, we read numerous articles and books that advised giving children choices, letting them deal with the consequences. It sounded so logical.

The idea was to give them choices, where reasonable (even if it’s just between which vegetable to eat at dinner) to give them a sense of self and some control in their little lives. Then, if they don’t like the consequences of that choice, they will have learned a lesson, thinking: “Well that didn’t go according to plan. Next time, I’ll make another choice.” As if!

This rarely worked with our kids. My strong-willed children would simply push away both vegetable choices, at which point I would decide for them what they were going to have and we were back at parent-controlled square one. Still, we believed in the premise and continued to give them choices when we could, i.e., when it was doable, safe and reasonable.

When choices and consequences work, it’s a beautiful thing. For instance, last year, our daughter Grace decided she couldn’t stand her current, demanding school for even one more day and wanted to go to another one, mid-year, where many of her friends went. Even though we felt her current school was the best choice for her, we allowed her to look into the other school, which wasn’t as simple as it may seem. There were lots of forms to fill out on the parts of us, her current school, the other school and the district.

She visited the other school and came home saying she didn’t want to go there after all. She didn’t like the lack of control in the classrooms (something she had complained about on the flip side in her current school), felt she couldn’t get as strong an education and, to top things off, didn’t want to have to take the bus at 6:30am (perhaps the biggest motivating factor of them all). She returned to her school with renewed commitment, getting more out of it than she had before when she thought the grass was greener.

Now, her younger brother, Grant wants to do the same thing! He didn’t learn from his sister’s experience and is just sure things would be different for him. So we’re at a crossroads now, between saying “we already learned this lesson and you don’t need to go through it” to letting him find out it’s wrong FOR HIM (even though it means work on everyone else’s part). I’m trying to follow the advice that seems logical, but it just doesn’t always work!

He says: Face it, raising kids is hard. It’s a continuous struggle between individuals over what choices are “right” and “wrong”, “best” and “worst”. I’m kind of surprised human beings even exist given how our progeny rebel against their parents at every opportunity! Left to themselves and their own “instincts”, they’d run into traffic, put everything they find on the ground in their mouth, run naked in the streets, and basically turn into wild beasts. But as wise old parents, we help them make good choices and keep them alive, clothed, healthy and hopefully gaining a lick of good sense with every experience. Frustrating, infuriating and exhausting – yes, but that’s what parenting kids to make good choices is all about. By the time they reach “legal maturity” at 18 or so, we’ve done our best.

For our family, having multiple headstrong “mini-lawyers” who question our every directive and action, it is even more exhausting to stay focused on the prize – self-regulating, productive, happy and healthy adults. So Grant wants to go down the same path as his big sis, it is frustrating… but it is also his right to explore options and make choices. But Courtney’s right that we don’t have to like this reality.

Tell us:  How far do you go to let your kids make their own choices and live with the consequences? At what point, do you put your foot down, even if it means they may be miserable with the option you appoint for them?


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