Giving our children choices understandably comes with many fears.
We worry that:
…if we give our child a choice on what to eat for breakfast, they will eat the same thing every day.
…if we hold space for their anger or frustration, they won’t respect authority or boundaries.
…if we honor their love for sharing their toys, they will want to give away their entire piggy bank.
…if we model loving ourselves first, they will feel we don’t love them enough.
…if we encourage them to speak up, they will voice their opinions more, and we won’t like what we hear.
…if we give them the power to negotiate, we will give away our control over them, and they will end up wanting to make all the decisions.
…if they get used to having so many choices, that they won’t adapt to the world we live in, where choices aren’t given.
But the truth is, these are extreme thoughts.
We’ve lost confidence and courage in ourselves.
And the truth is, the benefits far outweigh the risks.
If you feel inclined, take a look at this article on Mother.ly that shares 6 powerful benefits of giving our children choice.
I get it, though…
There are days where I, too, slip back into controlling his choices.
Me: “You’ve got to eat that broccoli”
Me: “You have to sleep at 6pm”
Me: “Clean up or I’m taking your phone away”
But that’s why I give him full permission to hold me accountable when I’m not speaking my truth.
Jian: “No, I don’t have to eat that Broccoli. I’m eating mushrooms.”
Jian: “Why? I’ll get my 10 hours of sleep if I sleep at 8pm”
Jian: “You can’t take my phone away. That’s not related to me not cleaning up.”
It sounds shocking, but sometimes I need him to shock me.
Because I’ve lost confidence and courage.
These shocks stop me and shake me back into compassion, where I understand what it feels like when my own choices are being controlled.
The Whole Brain Child, by Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, explains the science behind how a developing young brain builds courage and confidence through choice.
- A young child’s upstairs brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 20.
- The upstairs brain is responsible for decision-making and choices.
- Their downstairs brain is fully developed at birth.
- It is responsible for basic functions like breathing, blinking, and fear (fight or flight).
Young children need LOTS of practice with making choices and decisions in the safety we provide.
These are their prime years for learning how to integrate and develop their upstairs brain with their downstairs brain, in order to make courageous and confident choices.
Here are 5 simple ways we practice choice in our home:
- He picks what he wants for dinner 5 out of the 7 days. Yes, there are weeks when he has tacos on all 5 days.
- He chooses what he wears no matter where we go. Yes, there are times I’ve dressed up in a gown and attended an event with him in sweatpants.
- He chooses when he is full. Yes, there are times when he will skip meals.
- He chooses who to hug and who hugs him. Yes, this includes grandparents.
- He chooses when he wants to share his toys. Yes, this implies that sharing doesn’t necessarily mean caring.
It gives him freedom in a way that leaves him feeling seen and understood.