The Role of Choices in Raising a Child
The world we are raising our children to live in is a world of modern ideas that are inconsistent with reality. We have come to accept ideas that would have seemed almost absurd to our forefathers. One such idea that exists today is that events or circumstances determine our behavior. The corollary of this idea is that we are not responsible for our choices, that what others do or the circumstances we live under shapes what we think, what we do, and thus we cannot help who we are or what we become.
The events of the past few weeks and the mistreatment of Iraqi Prisoners has brought this fact more in focus. We have been witnesses to crimes committed, choices made by individuals who definitely knew better, and it seems the whole world wants to blame the President of the United States the Secretary of Defense and even the American People for the indefensible choices of a few individuals.
Given this modern reality how do we help our children learn that they are responsible for their own behavior? How do we teach them that their choices are their choices? How do we teach them that no one is to blame but themselves for the decisions they make? Her are some ideas that may help.
First; as parents we must get a few concepts clear in our own mind. We must recognize that less than seventy-five years ago when a child made poor choices, choices that were indefensible, the child was considered the person responsible. It was considered absurd to blame the parents or the training a child received for his or her behavior. No matter how the child had been raised there was a fundamental belief in our society that individuals were responsible for their own behavior. This concept is still true today. Do not accept the distorted reality of the world we now live in.
Second; do not blame yourself for your child’s behavior. If you child makes poor choices, bad choices, hold them accountable not yourself. You are only responsible for your choices, good or bad, not the choices of your child.
Third; do not defend or protect your child from others or the consequences of their choices. It is only through making poor choices and recognizing the consequences of those choices that children learn responsibility. If a parent protects their child from consequences the child assumes that the parent is responsible. If they weren’t responsible why did they intervene? The child’s reasoning goes like this. “It must be my parent that caused me this pain; after all they are the ones who are supposed to make sure I do not suffer. If I have to suffer it is their fault, not mine. That’s what good parents are supposed to do. If they don’t protect me, no matter what I do, they must be bad parents.”
Fourth; do not judge other parents when their children make poor choices. Become a support, not a judge. Condemning another never worked in the past to improve society. What makes us think it will work now. Do not judge other’s children. All children, all individuals, should be viewed as good. There is no such thing as a club for evil people. No one sees themselves as evil or bad. Instead help the parents to hold their child accountable. When the child sees that others are not condemning their parents, it makes it more difficult for them to condemn. Eventually they will discover that they are responsible for their choices, not their parent.
Fifth; give your children lots of choices. Choices like, “Would you like to make your bed today or would you rather I take a dollar from your allowance for performing this task for you?” or “You may choose to go to bed happy or sad. It will be interesting to see what you decide.” Another way to do this same thing is to ask the question, “What are you going to do?” For example if your child says to you that they have no friends at school, do not tell them what to do or feel sorry for them, just say, “What are you going to do?” and have faith that they will eventually figure it out and if they need ideas they will ask. You do not need to protect them from the hurt they feel because of no friends. If you can help them recognize their value as a human being they will eventually feel sorry for people that do not like them, rather then hurt because they are not liked. If you protect or feel sorry for them they will never learn.
Sixth; feel sad, not mad or responsible, for you children when they chose to cry, get mad, hurt others, make mistakes, etc. If you can do this your child will eventually figure out that you are not responsible for their happiness or their behavior. For instance, if you child says to you that they are bored say, “That’s sad, I’m glad I do not choose to be bored, hope you get over that soon.”
It is hard to stand back and let our children learn the hard way that they are responsible for their own behavior but the alternative is harder. When they are adults, if you protect them now, they may decide that you are or were accountable for their behavior. They may even judge you and separate themselves from parents that didn’t care enough, from their point of view, to do what good parents are supposed to do. (Something responsible adults never do.) Hold them accountable now and enjoy friendship with responsible children later.