One of the advantages-and pleasures of living in a modern society is having a range of choices in many of the aspects of life that we consider important. Most of our children begin to exercise their option to make choices very early on in the scheme of things, picking and choosing among playthings, playmates, breakfast cereals, and clothes. Learning To Choose
Decisions in the early years are likely to prompt considerable pondering over the possible consequences of each choice. However, as children grow older, decisions and choices provide occasions for exercising the faculties of imagination and prediction-imagining how each alternative will play itself out and predicting the feelings that are likely to be generated in each of the possible alternative circumstances.
Early experiences with making choices and decisions can be expected to help young children
develop feelings of competence in decision making and responsibility for the choices they make. This can only occur, however, if the choices are real and the child is expected to stick with his or her decision. As long as the parent is sure that each of the possible choices available to the child won't harm or hurt the child in any way, the exercise will likely be fruitful and instructive. A Parent's Role
However, there are many aspects of life children cannot and should not be asked to decide upon for themselves. Children, for instance, cannot choose whether to be vaccinated against measles, or whether or not to go to school
, to learn to read, or to go to bed. Parents, by virtue of their greater experience, knowledge, and wisdom, must make those decisions and others like them on their children's behalf. Children cannot be given the power to determine their participation in events and experiences that have significant long-term consequences. Try Not To Waver
It is important for parents
to remember that children have only as much power as adults cede to them. Should youngsters get the idea that there are weak spots in the adults' stance and that the grown-ups will give in after a modicum of fussing, a tug of wills is likely to ensue time and again.
It is not difficult to understand why, in some cases, it almost becomes easier to let a child have the last word than to stand your ground. For example, occasionally a preschooler decides that she doesn't want to go to school. Most parents can relate to this, since even they have days when going to work seems to be a chore. It is not hard to imagine how the child might be feeling. It is so easy to give in, especially if you are in a hurry and have other things to worry about. Giving in to your child on one or two occasions seems reasonable and fair. But what if it happens two or three times a month? It's best for parents to establish clearly at the outset who is going to determine where their preschooler will be spending his or her time. The Danger of Letting Kids Decide
The same kinds of issues arise if a child is allowed to choose all his own toys or television shows. Letting the child make the choices undoubtedly reduces the hassle. But young children are seldom consistently capable of selecting what is in their own best interests. Many expensive toys, played with only occasionally, are wasteful of the family's resources, and buying them may provide a less-than-healthy lesson about the relative value of things. Similarly, many children, given the opportunity, habitually select television shows that are disturbing to them and lacking in any real value. In such cases, it is best that the authority to make those choices be exercised and maintained by parents. Balance in Child Rearing
Like most aspects of child rearing, too little or too much of whatever one does can be equally harmful. Young children's development can be enhanced when they have an optimum (rather that a maximum or minimum) number of choices.
© 1986National Parent Information Network
Credits: Lilian G. Katz