By Danielle, Contributing writer
I spent just eight days on a missions trip in the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere, but quickly learned that the food, culture, and lifestyle were not the only things that were different. After spending every waking moment with children who do not have a penny to their name and grew up in a dump, literally, I realized their parenting style, and thus the behavior of the children, was very different. I was asked by many friends and family just how the children were. I am sure they expected me to say things like, “man, they did not listen to a word I said,” or “they sure made me appreciate my son’s minor tantrums.”
But that was not my response. Honestly, they behaved better than most American children.
These children likely ate a cup of rice a day. They maybe had one change of used and ragged clothes. Sure, there were a few unruly kids. There were a few moments that resembled an MMA match. But overall, the constant whining, complaining and tantrums over colors of toys was nowhere to be found.
These children were parented differently, and while I am not saying we need to all move to another country and let our children forage for their food I do think our helicopter, do-not-touch-everything style of parenting should be reviewed.
A New Parenting Direction
I am all about attachment parenting. But I think there’s a part of our attachment parenting where we are running in the wrong direction, a direction that modern parenting as a whole seems to be running. When we constantly tell our children what to do, and what not to do, we don’t let them learn natural consequences, nor how to deal with them. They never learn how to make choices for themselves, a skill necessary in a world that offers them every choice in the book (in every good and bad direction).
Here is the part where attachment parenting picks up the pieces. When a poor decision results in a poor consequence, we have the chance to teach how to deal positively with the consequence, and even make a good situation of it. Because, let’s face it; life is going to throw some lemons their way regardless of their decisions. They need to learn this early, and know how to make some serious lemonade for themselves.
I’ve realized that preventing tantrums is not my goal. Because all that makes is a more temperamental, entitled child. I do not want that. I want a child who knows how to take any bad situation and turn it into good. A child who can quickly and easily see the positive in themselves and the world around them. And, someone who can turn that rainy day into sunshine for not only themselves, but also the rest of their little world.
7 Ways to Help Your Child Be a Decision Maker
Here are some practical ways you can help your child make decisions, and help them bounce back from any consequences:
Include Decision Making in Daily Life
Let your child make decisions in their daily routine. Let them pick out their own clothes (with some help based on the weather–if nothing else, an extra jacket packed for them if they are convinced the weather isn’t as chilly as the weather report indicates.) Allow for extra choice on insignificant parts of the day: pick the color of the cup they drink out of, whether to put their pajamas on or brush their teeth first. Giving them some control over these areas of life that grownups might otherwise take for granted can give them a sense of mastery and control over their day.
Mealtime Decision Making
Instead of demanding all of the chicken and broccoli eaten, trust your child to decide what they eat on their plate, and how much; after all, you’ve already done the work of providing nourishing food for them to eat. This can help them develop a healthier relationship with food, as well as circumnavigate the much dreaded food battles that often come with the territory of meal time. This also provides an opportunity for teaching about healthy food choices, as their taste buds grow and change.
Picking The Consequence…
Natural and logical consequences provide a natural built in teaching opportunity for our kids. But there still can be room for decision making to occur on the part of our kids. If cleaning their room does not get done in a timely manner, then the natural consequence becomes not having enough time to do the fun thing afterward. Them knowing this is how chores get handled gives them a sense of responsibility over the matter, without it becoming a matter of doling out consequences left and right. For younger kiddos, parenting a decision maker can look like offering the ‘non-choice’ choice to gain cooperation at times when it matters most. Need to get your youngster into the car for that appointment, but they’re being less than cooperative? “Would you like to hop to the car, or skip?” It gives them that sense of control over their life while still moving towards the cooperation in a way that isn’t all about barking out orders.
…As Well as the Reward
Instead of always leaning on the park, opt for some out-of-the-box perks for good behavior. Ensure you explain what you are proud of, to positively reinforce the stellar behavior. There’s nothing wrong with these fun experiences pushing your child out of their comfort zone.
Provide the Opportunity Through Community Service
Let your child guide your family on community service. Pick a day of the month as community service day, and allow your child to pick an activity. Create a list if they need help, but you may be surprised by the creative ideas they come up with.
Ask Your Child For Their Help and Advice
No, you don’t need help stirring the cake batter or cleaning the floor. But with your solicitation of help, you can show your child how to do a task while making it fun, with a positive attitude; that will be their model of baking, housework, and life.
Provide Support Along the Way
Most importantly, be there throughout the decision. Even if your little one has a tough time completing a task, show them that you offer grace, and that we can always turn a not-so-fun experience into a learning lesson, and can always make the best of things.
So while we don’t have to let our children be raised by wolves to make them positive decision makers, there are practical steps we can take, and good reasons why we should spend our years parenting by teaching them to make good decisions. And be there for them, and with them, when they don’t.
How do you help your child be a decision maker?
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