Life is full of choices, and learning to make positive choices is a life long skill. One mark of maturity is recognizing the possible results of a choice and because of that, choosing wisely. Yet young children are NOT mature and therefore parents must limit their choices and help them learn to make positive choices. Some children are naturally “careful.” These children do not like to take risks. They wait and watch before jumping off the diving board and then they will decide if it is worth taking the plunge. Other children will “dive right in” literally and figuratively. They have no fear and are eager to try anything. These various tendencies often show up early in a child’s development and follow them throughout life. (I remember asking one daughter to next time call me after she went sky diving so I did not have to worry during such activity!) Obviously daring children need to be monitored more closely than the more cautious ones.
Our goal as parents is to work ourselves out of a job. We will always be their mother, but we will not always be there to make decisions (nor should we). Here are a few tried and true strategies that encourage our children to begin making good choices:
1) Only offer a choice when you are really want your child to decide. This is not a game to see if they will choose what you have already decided is appropriate.
2) The younger the child, the narrower the choices. It is best to offer a 2-year-old a choice of “either or” between two items. As your child gets older, offering more choices lets them build skill in decision-making.
3) Once a child makes a choice, require them to stick with that choice. If they eat half a red popsicle and see that their sister has a purple one, don’t allow them to change their mind and get a purple one immediately. Learing to live with our choices is also a life lesson. You can remind them that next time they could choose a purple popsicle.
4) When it doesn’t matter what a child wears, let them choose. My mother likes to tell the story of the time one of her friends asked her “Why do you let Gayle dress that way?”. My mother responded, “Because she wants to.” (I know some of you are smiling now thinking about the way I have dressed throughout life.) We do want our children to be warm enough and safe, dry, modest, etc. but often while playing at home it doesn’t matter. I smile when I see an Indian Chief in full headdress or a princess in lacy gown and tiara in the grocery store! They have a mother like mine!
5) If the consequences are not permanent or harmful, let your child suffer the results of decisions. Spending their money at the carnival on a “trick” game will be a gentle way to learn that everyone does not win the BIG monkey.
6) Often small children want to choose a toy just because someone else is playing with it. If offering another choice does not work, ask the child to choose something else for a few minutes and then they can trade. If this is not satisfactory – you can remove the toy. Children quickly learn that if they want any chance to play with that toy – they must choose to share.
The most important choice our children will ever make is whether or not to follow God. When the children of Israel were faced with that choice after entering the promised land, Joshua said to them;
14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24: 14, 15
As mothers we often want to protect our children from hurting physically and emotionally. Yet if we are honest, some of the most important lessons we have learned in life have come as the result of suffering the consequences of our choices. We are able to model God’s unconditional love and grace as parents. When our children make a poor choice, we can forgive and instruct and help them to choose more effectively the next time.