Children should be free to choose what they want to do, within reason. Obviously children cannot be totally independent from adults, especially for safety reasons. However, children can still feel like they have control over their lives. Things should not be forced on a child. Providing choices for children is a necessary aspect of high-quality early childhood curriculum (Hendrick, 1996). It is important to give the child options for play. For example, you could say, “Would you like to play ______ or ______?” This choice allows the child to develop a sense of empowerment and freedom. Some examples of choices your child can make: which food to eat, toys to play with, and clothes to wear, etc.
It is very common for parents to push their children into playing certain sports or instruments. For example, a mother might push her child into playing the violin. The child keeps on going to violin lessons, but really does not want to play the violin. Forcing a child to continue with an activity they dislike will only foster a deep resentment towards that activity. Furthermore, forcing a child to play the violin might make them say they never want to play any music again. Adults do not like being forced into doing things they do not like, and this is the same for children. It is necessary for parents to ask the children first whether they want to participate in an activity. Lack of choice leads to children feeling powerless and feeling they have no control over their lives. Another example is parents pushing their children to get really good grades in school. The child might begin to feel that he or she is not good enough if they get a bad grade. Children might think that the parent only accepts them if they get good grades.
Tiger Woods, the most successful golf player in the world has told parents not to force children intro sports. He said, “Don’t force your kids into sports. I never was. To this day, my dad has never asked me to go play golf. I ask him. It’s the child’s desire to play that matters, not the parent’s desire to have the child play. Fun. Keep it fun.” By forcing kids to do something, the activity loses all the enjoyment.
Help your child make good decisions:
As a parent, you can help your children realize if they have made good or bad decisions. If your child decides to throw paint all over the floor and make a mess, help your child understand if this is a good or bad choice. By identifying if the choice is good or bad, your child can take responsibility for his or her decisions. It is a good idea to limit choices to two or three things, as unlimited choice tends to confuse children, as well as adults.
One mother writes of her success with giving her children choices. She writes, “There are hidden benefits in giving choices also. For instance, at bedtime I give my 7 year old the choice of going directly to sleep with lights out or laying quietly in bed with a few books to read, for 15-20 minutes. Which do you think she inevitably chooses? The hidden benefit is, her little impressionable mind is absorbed in an activity that broadens her intellect and re-enforces the skill of reading.”
Children make choices all day long, whether adults want them to or not. They choose how to speak to others, whether to ignore teachers, if they like school, etc. Children who make decisions will grow up to be empowered adults who can make responsible decisions.
Sample questions to ask your child during the day:
“Do you want the red dress or green dress?”
“Do you want to brush your hair or brush your teeth now?”
“Do you want to read a book or color a drawing?”
Empower your child! Give them a choice!