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.