The comments on my previous post
raised many interesting points. I tried to discuss some of them in the comments itself, but I realize I have lots more to say.
1) When you allow the child to make choices and take decisions about his own life, it puts him in a position of confidence and control.
He realizes that he is the master of his own life. And just as Sumana said in the comments, this attitude will enable him to respect other people's choices too.
If someone is always saying do this, do that - then he will also turn to the others around him and say, do this, do that, and will get offended when people don't concur with his choices or opinions. And aren't we seeing a lot of that intolerance around us?
2) Where to draw the line
- The question uppermost in every parent's mind, about every aspect of parenting. Such a fine balance, really, and so easy for it to go awry. In this matter of giving your choild choices, all that is in your hands is to lay before the child all the facts of the case, and then let him take his own decision.
In the matter of growing Puttachi's hair, I put it all down on the table
- washing and drying hair will take longer and will be more difficult, your hair will get tangled more easily, and it might be painful when I try to smoothen your hair out. We will need some time in the mornings for me to tie/braid your hair, and so you will have to help me by getting ready sooner.
She considered all this, and still went ahead with her decision. And if she ever whines when it is taking too long to wash her hair, I remind her that she had been warned, and she shuts up immediately.
I know that my aunt would set things out like this to her son, and he would invariably weigh the pros and cons and make the correct decision. That way, he felt in control of his own life, and my aunt was also satisfied that she told him all the facts of the situation up front, and he made the choice she wanted too.
And honestly, I personally think that when a child grows with this kind of attitude, the possibilities of his making the wrong choices becomes very little, because he gets used to weighing the pros and cons
of it all.
Besides, if he grows up with constantly being told what to do, he might want to rebel on purpose, though he knows that what he is doing is wrong - because now he has the power to carry out his wishes though it is against his parents' wishes.
3) A friend and a reader of this blog told me about how her 6-7 year old daughter signed up for Taekwondo classes without discussing it with her parents. I think it is a good sign, because the child is already confident about her own life and choices, enough to go ahead on her own. Second, and most important, she has taken this step because she knows that her parents will support her. That security, that confidence in parents - that spring board is essential for a child to spring forward in life.
If the board itself is faulty or shaky, how do you expect a child to step on it and leap forward?
But then again, where to draw the line? In this case, I would have first appreciated the child's enthusiasm and initiative, and later, maybe some hours later or the next day, bring it back into the conversation and gently suggest that some things need to be discussed with the parents first, because the parents have a bigger picture and can help with the decision. And my guess is that the child will oblige because by now she already knows that her parents are sensible.
4) One more commenter suggested "As a parent, you choose three good options, and then give them the liberty to choose one among them. That way, you protect your child from making wrong decisions... "
My take on this is - providing your child these options might seem like you are allowing them to have a semblance of control in their lives - but yet, the child has no freedom to make his own choice. So how will he make mistakes, and learn from them?
The child wants a chocolate, and you say, "you can have either an apple or a banana or an orange." How is it going to help the child who wants chocolate feel in control? Later in life, if the child wants to become a photographer, and you say, "Become either a doctor or an engineer or a laywer." What do you think? If my examples weren't good, if you can give me examples about how this aproach can be a good thing, please do.
5) When the child has the freedom to decide, the child probably respects your decisions more, and believe it or not, listens to your words more readily.
For example, sometimes, if I ask Puttachi, "Want to have your dinner right away, or do you want to play for a while longer?"
She says, "Whatever, Amma. If you want me to come right now, I will. Whatever you want." And this is not obedience, and it is not as if she is not interested in what she is doing. Probably she is not too particular either way, and would rather leave the decision to me, and my guess is that it could be because she doesn't feel the need to assert herself.
6) Giving the child a choice helps make her responsible for her choice.
If Puttachi wants to play in the park for ten minutes longer, I tell her, "Fine you can play, but you do realize, don't you, in that case you will have time for only one bedtime story." So Puttachi now has to make a choice, and she makes it, and if she cries for an extra bedtime story, I put my foot down. You chose this, so accept this, I say. And so the next time, she will be careful about what she chooses. This result, cause and effect will somehow shape her decision-making, is what I believe and hope! :)
There are, of course, certain situations where you just have to step in and draw a line - especially those concerning the child's safety, well-being and health. Until the child is old enough to know better, these choices are best made by you - BUT, with an explanation to the child why this is so. It is the child's life and she deserves to know why.
I'd love to hear from you about your views, your experiences.