It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. - J.K. Rowling
Isn't that the truth! And it seems so potent coming from Rowling who herself is the quintessential rags to riches story in 5 years. Such a story comes from making smart choices, not necessarily easy choices but smart choices. Surely it wasn't easy to work full-time, write the first Harry Potter book in long hand and then receive a boatload of rejections. But with persistence and repeatedly making smart choices (not perfect but each one smarter) her best self began to unfold.
And isn't that our deepest wish as parents, educators and adults - to guide children in making smart choices that help propel them forward versus hold them back. No longer are children to be controlled but rather cultivated. And part of cultivating happy and healthy children is letting them make their own choices, loving them unconditionally (so when they make poor choices) and directing them to make smart choices.
Choices Change Everything
A child with choices feels empowered, intelligent and capable to face whatever life presents. Sam, age 4, is often given choices. He is a highly sensitive child that wants to feel valued and respected despite his lack of years. In other words, if you force Sam to do something - it is likely he will throw a temper tantrum because what he deeply wants is his intelligence, sensitivity and innovativeness respected versus devalued (forced to do something). So working with Jeanne and John, I helped them uncover their child's needs as a highly sensitive child and suggested a parenting approach that uses choices to help foster a partnership between parents and child. The results were amazing! Tantrums were cut in ½ and everyone was happier.
Giving kids opportunities to make choices also helps them learn how to develop self-confidence, self-trust and an overall positive belief in their capability to navigate this world.
Kids also learn how to make smart choices like everyone else. A little bit of trial and error is involved. So extending an unconditionally loving support system is essential to a child as they learn how to make smarter choices. Anna, age 8, took her math test without much preparation (poor choice) and got a terrible grade. Mistakenly her parents told her how disappointed they were with her and that it wasn't good enough. Anna felt terrible like she wasn't good enough. It is a common parenting mistake.
A better approach would have been to hug Anna and provide her with unconditional support. She is loved regardless of the test grade and yes, it was not an ideal grade but you can encourage her to try again and spend more time (smarter choice) studying for the exam. Plus you can be fully honest and explain that we all fall down and it's in getting back up again that is the smartest choice.
Choices Often (but not always)
Providing children choices is powerful. It encourages partnership, participation and cooperation. Like Sam whose behavior immediately improved once he started to have choices. Such choices helped Sam feel more "in control" versus being controlled. And due to Sam's nature of being highly sensitive he was easily upset when he didn't either have choices or understand the situation.
So giving kids choices can be a powerful tool in parenting. It is also not a blanket remedy. There are times when it is best to be the "authority figure" and give children no choices or negotiate choices with them. For example, Erin is required to do her homework each night. It is not a choice. Her mom, Andy, took the time to explain to Erin that completing homework is necessary to progress in school.
Such a "positive and firm" parenting approach teaches children how to apply self-control and self-discipline in their life. It is an essential teaching. Without it children don't learn how to self-regulate their mind, body or emotions. And since kids are growing at such rapid rates with an emotional intensity unparalleled it is really the healthy adults in their life that need to set boundaries and identify the "choice moments" when kids greatly benefit from the power of being given a choice.
So as more and more kids learn how to make smart choices and choose from a place of strength - the world will transform. More and more people will be expressing their unique "inner Rowling" thus bringing their talents forward and contributing in ways unimagined. Now isn't this a goal worth working for?
[Sidenote: Books have been written on these topics so these topics are complex. Ideas presented here are to stimulate some original thinking and begin a new dialogue about the power of giving kid's choices - especially the highly sensitive kids.]
By Maureen Healy
Reproduced only with written permission by author.