Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Some more on a child and its choices.

The comments on my previous post raised many interesting points. I tried to discuss some of them in the comments itself, but I realize I have lots more to say.

1) When you allow the child to make choices and take decisions about his own life, it puts him in a position of confidence and control.  He realizes that he is the master of his own life.  And just as Sumana said in the comments, this attitude will enable him to respect other people's choices too.  If someone is always saying do this, do that - then he will also turn to the others around him and say, do this, do that, and will get offended when people don't concur with his choices or opinions.  And aren't we seeing a lot of that intolerance around us? 

2) Where to draw the line - The question uppermost in every parent's mind, about every aspect of parenting.  Such a fine balance, really, and so easy for it to go awry.  In this matter of giving your choild choices, all that is in your hands is to lay before the child all the facts of the case, and then let him take his own decision.

In the matter of growing Puttachi's hair, I put it all down on the table - washing and drying hair will take longer and will be more difficult, your hair will get tangled more easily, and it might be painful when I try to smoothen your hair out.  We will need some time in the mornings for me to tie/braid your hair, and so you will have to help me by getting ready sooner.  She considered all this, and still went ahead with her decision.  And if she ever whines when it is taking too long to wash her hair, I remind her that she had been warned, and she shuts up immediately. 

I know that my aunt would set things out like this to her son, and he would invariably weigh the pros and cons and make the correct decision.  That way, he felt in control of his own life, and my aunt was also satisfied that she told him all the facts of the situation up front, and he made the choice she wanted too.

And honestly, I personally think that when a child grows with this kind of attitude, the possibilities of his making the wrong choices becomes very little, because he gets used to weighing the pros and cons of it all. 

Besides, if he grows up with constantly being told what to do, he might want to rebel on purpose, though he knows that what he is doing is wrong - because now he has the power to carry out his wishes though it is against his parents' wishes.

3) A friend and a reader of this blog told me about how her 6-7 year old daughter signed up for Taekwondo classes without discussing it with her parents.  I think it is a good sign, because the child is already confident about her own life and choices, enough to go ahead on her own.  Second, and most important, she has taken this step because she knows that her parents will support her.  That security, that confidence in parents - that spring board is essential for a child to spring forward in life.  If the board itself is faulty or shaky, how do you expect a child to step on it and leap forward?

But then again, where to draw the line?  In this case, I would have first appreciated the child's enthusiasm and initiative, and later, maybe some hours later or the next day, bring it back into the conversation and gently suggest that some things need to be discussed with the parents first, because the parents have a bigger picture and can help with the decision.  And my guess is that the child will oblige because by now she already knows that her parents are sensible.

4) One more commenter suggested "As a parent, you choose three good options, and then give them the liberty to choose one among them. That way, you protect your child from making wrong decisions... "

My take on this is - providing your child these options might seem like you are allowing them to have a semblance of control in their lives - but yet, the child has no freedom to make his own choice.  So how will he make mistakes, and learn from them?

The child wants a chocolate, and you say, "you can have either an apple or a banana or an orange." How is it going to help the child who wants chocolate feel in control?  Later in life, if the child wants to become a photographer, and you say, "Become either a doctor or an engineer or a laywer."  What do you think?  If my examples weren't good, if you can give me examples about how this aproach can be a good thing, please do.


5) When the child has the freedom to decide, the child probably respects your decisions more, and believe it or not, listens to your words more readily.
For example, sometimes, if I ask Puttachi, "Want to have your dinner right away, or do you want to play for a while longer?"
She says, "Whatever, Amma.  If you want me to come right now, I will.  Whatever you want."  And this is not obedience, and it is not as if she is not interested in what she is doing.   Probably she is not too particular either way, and would rather leave the decision to me, and my guess is that it could be because she doesn't feel the need to assert herself. 

6) Giving the child a choice helps make her responsible for her choice.  If Puttachi wants to play in the park for ten minutes longer, I tell her, "Fine you can play, but you do realize, don't you, in that case you will have time for only one bedtime story."  So Puttachi now has to make a choice, and she makes it, and if she cries for an extra bedtime story, I put my foot down.  You chose this, so accept this, I say.  And so the next time, she will be careful about what she chooses. This result, cause and effect will somehow shape her decision-making, is what I believe and hope! :)

There are, of course, certain situations where you just have to step in and draw a line - especially those concerning the child's safety, well-being and health.  Until the child is old enough to know better, these choices are best made by you - BUT, with an explanation to the child why this is so.  It is the child's life and she deserves to know why. 

I'd love to hear from you about your views, your experiences.

16 comments:

Sumana said...

Very wise points discussed Shruthi. So much to learn and unlearn here.

Wanderer said...

Completely agree with you. You're such a balanced parent who has her daughter's wishes and choices in mind. I can give my own example of what happens when children are forbidden to decide for themselves. I couldn't think of buying anything from my first salary until I asked my mom if I could. Basically Indian parents thrust their decisions of their children because going forward they want to maintain the same control over them. Do this, dont do this stuff.
But not always are people who are let to make their own choices respect others choices. My mother was a free bird at her home. Pampered by her parents she always had her way. But just recently she asserted that we are overlooking her choices in the matter of decision over our lives.
So I say, together with letting them make their choice, it must be inculcated that he/she cannot choose for someone else.

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Noodlehead said...

interesting topic. but this is not how it works in our house. when we reason with our daughter, she will make her choice and if it doesn't work out, she forgets that we had actually warned her that this might happen! take the eat now or play eg. My child will opt to play for a bit longer and then have a meltdown because she will only realize her hunger when it gets unbearable. despite this, I still let her make her choices because I know that she can only learn from her own mistakes (even something as simple as eating now or later!). No matter how much I wish she could learn from my mistakes or experiences, it will not happen. It is painful to see sometimes, when I know that her choice will hurt or inconvenience her but I still let her carry on with it. And I have no clue where to draw the line. I always wonder how my parents did it for me!

CC said...

Shruth, I can't thank you enough for the last couple of posts. Very timely as I was having a parenting-block ( I know I just made that up!) agree with wanderer, you are a well balanced parent indeed. Xx

Anonymous said...

Re: my posting about giving 3 choices and making the child to pick one, Shruti said how will we let kids to learn from their mistakes if you do not let them make the choice to begin with. Here, Shruti is making lot of assumptions about child's ability to discern the consequences of his/her choice (interesting to see that Shruti, unconsciously chose the pronoun 'he', and left out 'she'...kids can be boy or girls too,,,just kidding Shruti!). Speaking of learning from their mistakes making them strong, we know that hitting ones head on a hard surface will hurt...do you let the child learn this by hitting his/her head? No...obviously not. We always learn from our parent's/friends/peers experience. Moreover, letting children make their choice depends on the age factor. Biologically, reasoning kicks in around puberty...and during that period, because of biological changes, and gush of hormones,teenager's reasoning ability gets cloudy, and chances are they make wrong decisions...(we have been there, aren't we?). As a parent, we need to make sure we guard against sometimes such irreversible mistakes....Of course, there is NO one solution that's good for every child...each case is different...sometimes, we have to bite the bullet and move on with life when things go wrong even with our best parenting practices.....

expression said...

I somewhat agree with Shruthi's blog that if kids are let make their own decisions (of course drawing the line where is it needed)make them better thinker and more considerate to other people's feelings and decisions.

Anonymous said...

You asked to talk from our experiences. I hesitated, because experience could burst a bubble.

Theoretically what you are doing is exellent. But to say that " if given choices they will learn from their mistakes" sorry. wish it was as simple as that . If only we could simplify that in to "cause -effect"

Sorry I have to say this but there is no rule that giving choices will make a child responsible.
Eg: I know about a child who chose to learn one form of music every 6 months and later in life complained that -if only my parents were strong enough to let me remain with one form, I could have been a musician. How would I have known to make the right choice at that age?

When one lives long enough one comes across so many such examples that I could say that the result can go either way. Infact it is 50-50.

There have been children aplenty who grew up with strict [no choice] households who became great individuals and those who grew up with many " informed" choices who grew up to be aimless, unhappy , self pitying individuals.

The vice-versa also happened , of course.

So with parenting,we can do what we feel is right at that time. That is good. But to summarize and say " if we do this, this will happen"... well, good luck.

Anonymous said...

Anon@11.26:
I don't think Shruthi is linking success and failure to choices and cause-effect. She is only suggesting providing choices with all the background to guide the child to take decisions.
If the child chooses to experiment, so be it. Shruthi emphasizes to take an informed decision.

Shruthi said...

Thanks Sumana, Wanderer!

Noodlehead, I know what you mean. There are times when I realize they are too young for it - especially when hunger and tiredness take over and everything else takes a backseat. And that line, that line... sigh!

CC, glad it helped - but you know, I am so confused myself sometimes - putting things down in writing helps clear my head. :)

Anon at 7:38, that's where we go wrong.. we assume that the child is too young to understand this, and follow that, and here, to discern the consequences of its decisions. Granted, every child has different abilities, but we have to stop assuming what the child is capable of, and isn't.
And I don't think reasoning starts at puberty. I have observed pretty good reasoning abilities in children as young as two and three.
And like I said, there are some areas where we have to step in and make the choices - but there are areas where we could let the child experiment.
Btw, the "he" was used totally consciously.

Anon at 11:26, any parent has only theories to go by - some parents express it, some don't. Some theories work, some don't. The fact that I write about it doesn't make it right, and that's why I always ask for opinions, because I am learning too.
Besides, I know that every child is different, and there is no single correct theory that will work with every child. All we can do is think of what seems like the right thing to do, and then follow it as far as we can.
I am aware that for the development of any characteristic in a person, multiple factors are at play, some beyond our control. So what we as parents can do is give our children a nudge in what we think is the right direction. And that is what I am suggesting we do here. After this, what will happen - who knows?

Anon at 12:01, I couldn't have said it better.

Anonymous said...

Came across this, which I thought was quite relevant to this discussion.

(Off-topic, Mayim Bialik is pretty awesome. I love Big Bang Theory, and I was pretty impressed with what I've read about her as a person).

ano

Radhika said...

Shruthi, very useful post for all the parents. At times, I do wonder if we, the new age parents are worrying too much about how to bring up the child, while for our parents it required no concious efforts. When I asked Ananya how did she take a decision to join for Taekwando classes she told " decision andre Enu antaane gottilla nange! class ge sErkObEku anstu sErkonDe!". It is just as simple as that. And everytime she does something on her own, my imagination grows wild to think what I would do if as a grownup she decides whom she should marry without asking me!

Anonymous said...

Good post !

Anonymous said...

Shruti,
When I said "...reasoning starts at puberty", I meant that in a technical sense..not in a mundane sense (You can try this experiment...take a small cardboard box. Place one marble inside the box, and one outside, but near the box. Ask your daughter which marble is closer the box and find out what answer you get. You will be surprised to know most children would point finger at the marble outside the box, and not the one inside the box. You can use either English or Kannada language for this experiment.
BTW, I wonder why you would use 'he' consciously though!...Don't you think it promotes gender discrimination at the subconscious level? Or, am I just assuming more than what appears to be a simple habit of language usage issue..just curious.

Shruthi said...

Ano, great link, thanks! So much to learn from that! Yeah I've read quite a bit about her too, and I love Big Bang Theory too :)

Radhika, that isn't such a bad scenario is it? :) If we've given our children the right ideas about men and marriage, they will choose wisely and well, don't worry :)

Anon, oh I see, that kind. Interesting. Makes me want to read more about it! :)
About using "he" consciously - it is not so deep! Since I use "she" very often because I am usually thinking about my daughter when talking about parenting, I sometimes make an effort to use "he" to balance it out ;)

ishani said...

Good post .. Thank you for sharing this post..

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