Discipline and decision

Every morning my kitchen resonates with at least three different requests for breakfast, which may sound shocking, but in our case, is accepted. Rarely do my four little ones select the same dish but through discussion and sometimes argumentation, they settle on one. When I began asking my kids, years ago, what they want for breakfast each morning, I had some moms roll their eyes at me, while the experienced ones gave a chuckle and let me be. They probably thought I’d learn my lesson soon enough- and I did. I learned that in order to teach kids to make the right decisions as adults, we have to train them from an early age. Giving limited choices over things that don’t matter much while young makes it easier to choose as adults. In the words of parenting author and teacher Barbara Coloroso, giving kids choices early on gives them a sense of control over things in their lives and teaches them to “think for themselves”. This process of negotiating, discussing, arguing, proving and agreeing is an integral part of a child’s education which we, as well meaning but busy parents, can shut down tyrannically. I’m not suggesting that kids make all the decisions nor am I saying that their decisions have to be accepted at all costs, but in order to feel like an important part of the decision making authority at home, each child has to be heard- in the least.

The Arabic word for choice – ikhtiar, comes with the root word Khair (good) in it. So by definition, bad can not be in the equation. Our decisions should be our ability to choose what is good. We have to teach our children to choose good even when it is the harder choice to make. A lot of us grew up in a generation or place where children were to be seen and not heard. This type of upbringing makes us incapable of deciding even the most banal things in life. If we could not have a say then, how can we make a decision now? Some have not made a single decision themselves- from their schooling to their jobs to their spouses-everything was chosen for them. They decide nothing and prefer it that way. Others shy away from responsibility altogether as an outcome of the fact they weren’t given any to experiment with while younger. We hear of more and more young men and women unable to choose, decide, navigate and stick through decisions of life because they are still “new to the game”.

The key is in finding the balance between discipline and decision. As parents we are guides and role models , therefore we have to consider what we are trying to raise: replicas, rebels or responsible adults. Our parenting style is what determines that. By giving our children choices early in life we can train them to choose better over good, not just good over bad. When I ask my kids what they want for breakfast, I always quantify it: do you want waffles, pancakes or crepes for breakfast? This way I eliminate the moans, groans and complaints that come when it’s time to finish. Not giving a child choice in the simplest of things festers a feeling of helplessness in them. One of the worst statements a parent can use on a child (and God knows we’ve all spoken these words) is “because I said so!” What does it really mean? If we think about it for a second, to the receiver it can mean:
1) I don’t have time to talk about it.
2) You are under my authority so do as you are told.
3) I really don’t have an answer to your question.
4) You are not important or intelligent enough to explain it to.

Autonomy and independence come with responsibility. Responsibility starts with making choices and facing the ramifications of it. We all have dropped the ball on occasion, and probably expect our kids to do the same. Why not let them drop the ball now when it’s not very high up? Letting children in on the decision making process takes more out of us than them. It is a matter of relinquishing control and trusting our child. It’s about having the stomach to let errors be made, rules be changed and new ideas to emerge. By equipping our little ones with proper decision making skills and engaging them with decisions in the home, we will all benefit from enhanced motivation, cooperation and contentment in the family-InshaAllah.

About Soulful Studies

Home schooling consultant, home educator and mother of 4, blogger
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5 Responses to Discipline and decision

  1. Um Sumayyah says:

    Insightful, ma sha’ Allah! I love how you raised awareness about such a simple/basic concept in parenting – barak Allahu fiki!

  2. Tara says:

    Jazak Allah khair Shaheen. I’ve been mulling over the same issues lately and your insightful and logical reasoning really brings peace to mind. barak Allahu fiki!

  3. Michelle Nashef says:

    Assalamua alaikum. I have a comments on some of the statements you made. Overall, I would say that the point you are making is a very valid one–children should be taught to make decision from a young age. We all have limited views and I have my limited views from my experience with what worked or didn’t work with my kids. You stated that some people “decide nothing and prefer it that way. Others shy away from responsibility altogether as an outcome of the fact they weren’t given any to experiment with while younger”. Having had a kids whose favorite response when given even limited choices were “I don’t know”, or “I’m fine”, I think that it is important to teach kids that all of life is one decision after another, and the lack of a decision is a decision by default. They do not get out of responsibility because they choice to not decide. They don’t get to play the victim and say they had no choice. There is always a choice. The choice to do nothing is also a choice. They must reap the ramification of the default decision. As you said, “Responsibility starts with making choices and facing the ramifications of it”. And even not making a choice is a decision, and there is responsibility and ramification that goes with it.

    I whole heartedly agree with “Why not let them drop the ball now when it’s not very high up?” I know that lot of people think I’m harsh, but I believe in letting kids fail, if that is the natural consequence of their choices. Better that they fail in the safety of the home environment in little matters, and learn the lessons of bad choices, than to let them fail when we cannot protect them in the real world later in life, when consequences can be life changing.

    Forgive me if I am simplifying and generalizing your statement, but I do not agree with your statement that “One of the worst statements a parent can use on a child (and God knows we’ve all spoken these words) is “because I said so!” I think one of the things that kids need to be taught is to respect authority, and that they are not always entitled to know why. I don’t believe it is necessary to reason or persuade your child to listen to you. It is a matter of trust. Of course, if there is time, and if it is appropriate to do so, great. But they need to respect authority enough to obey even if it doesn’t make sense to them, even if they don’t agree. Just as in religion, if we are told to not eat pork, we don’t eat pork. We don’t need to to be told why, we obey because God said so. We can rationalize all we want, but we don’t know the reason that God told us to not eat pork. Some may think pork is unhealthy meat, some may think pork is just fine. It doesn’t matter. What we think regarding this is irrelevant. We obey because God said so. We trust that Allah knows best, and we obey. Our children need to be taught deference to this level toward their parents, except when obeying parents is haram. Children must trust that we know things taht they don’t know, we know what is best for them, we have their best interest at heart, so they need to trust us and obey us, with or without explanation. And, “because I said so” is a good enough reason.

    My two cents. 🙂 May Allah bless you and me for our efforts and forgive our mistakes.

  4. Salam alaykum Michelle,
    I agree: not choosing is a choice as well and we have to have our children face the ramifications of not making a choice just as they would if they did make a choice.
    I also agree that with matters of the deen “we hear and we obey”, and there are some times when “because I said so” is imperative. But I think once the immediacy of the situation has diffused, a conversation should be had, depending on the age of the child of course, but having a talk about what or why I said so is a more effective way to go. Perhaps, it is the exact explanation you gave above, but its good to include the child. It is in no way giving up any parenting authority, it actually heightens it some more!
    Thank you for taking the time to write your thoughts and share with us. I appreciate it very much. I’m sure a lot of parents agree with you as well. Thanks for speaking for all of them.

  5. Assalaamu alaikum sister,

    thank you very much for an insightful post on a topic which is close to my own heart. I agree with you on the importance of choices and also with sister Michelle on the importance of obedience. I have only recently, through trial and error, came to a conclusion that ”you need to do this now, because I am saying so” has it’s place in parenting. I always do my best to explain why, but there are situations when there is no time for it or my daughter is just not open to explanations. I talked to her several times about this, she knows I give her a lot of freedom to choose but she also knows that at times she needs to follow what I say. She seems to in her own way understand that she is the little one here and I am the mommy in charge and accepts it. I imagine it as her submitting to the higher truth and I think it is good for her to practice this submission (sister Michelle explained it beautifully in her own words). Sometimes I tell my daughter that when I was a little girl I had to listen to my mommy, now it’s her turn to listen to me because I am the mommy, and when she becomes a mommy Inshallah, then her children will listen to her because she will be the mommy. So when the situation comes she knows when I say ”Darling this is one of the moments when you just need to do as I say because I am the mommy”, she seems to understand and accept it and also knows that very soon, she will have a chance to decide on something else.
    But saying this I want to stress that all of these strategies also depend on the character and age of the children. My daughter at three and a half is at a different stage then a child of for example eight who would perhaps be more able to understand and accept reasoning.
    But these as well as all parenting and any other issues are a matter of a constant strive for perfect balance and may Allah help us and guide us on our journey to Him. And I hope what I am trying to say makes sense Inshallah.
    With most sincere greetings of peace
    your sister in Islam
    Lenka

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