The Importance of Freedom for Children


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


When children misbehave or make unwise decisions parents tend to become more restrictive and are likely to curtail the child's freedom. Usually this approach is not too productive. Any child with spunk will fight this approach or make choices that tend to lead him/her further down the path their unwise decisions are taking them.

Children's deviant behavior is their way of experimenting to discover who they are. When a child tries out such behavior it is similar to trying out a pair of shoes. If the behavior satisfies a need that he/she has, the behavior will continue.

Children are by nature loving and cooperative. As a result they are easily hurt and will compensate by keeping others out of their life. You can't get hurt if you keep others out or if you can control your world. If a child has the courage and decides to be cooperative and love, he/she places themselves in a position of being hurt.

When a child is belligerent or uncooperative it is usually because they are trying to gain the order or control they think they need. The wise parent recognizes that this child is the very child that needs more freedom not less. This does not mean freedom to harm others or property. It does mean freedom to discover how to learn the best way to gain the order and appropriate control they need.

Parents need to learn how to give as much freedom as possible and to intervene only when help is needed. This intervention should not curtail freedom but rather it should give the child appropriate alternatives to choose from. "John, screaming hurts my ears and I cannot hear you. Do you need time to get yourself under control or do you want to try that again using a softer voice. When I am able to understand you I will be glad to help you with your problem."

Ordering a child to behave in a certain way does not seem to work well when the child is misbehaving. When the child feels it is necessary to misbehave it is a crisis and instruction will not sink in. When a person is drowning, yelling orders on how to swim has little effect. The person can understand what you are saying but cannot translate this into appropriate behavior. A drowning person needs to be rescued. A child out of control needs to be assisted in the same way.

The child who is misbehaving needs intervention that is helpful and not destructive. The child needs to feel free to get right in there and try again. Telling a person who you have just pulled from the lake what a lousy swimmer they are and keeping them away from the lake does not help them learn to swim. They need the freedom to get back in the water and try again. This courage to try again is the hallmark of an individual who is growing. This courage only develops in an atmosphere of freedom.

Our forefathers began a great experiment over 200 years ago when they declared that men/women can reach their greatest potential only in a land in which all men and women are free. This freedom to do whatever you want as long as you do not infringe on the rights of others or hurting yourself is a freedom children have the right to also. If we as parents can learn to be benevolent coaches assuring our children as much freedom as possible then our children are free to learn and understand the responsibility they have to as a citizen of this free land.