Making life choices is a skill to be learned. It sounds incredibly simplistic. Almost like there shouldn't even be a reason for me to write about this. Yet here I am.
Parents often believe they're providing this freedom to their children, yet when you step back from traditional systems like schools that structure most of their lives, it's clear that the system creates very limited choices.
They may feel they have options, such as picking a school or selecting subjects. This is not real choice. Kids are essentially working a 9-5 job until they turn 18 with no option to quit. Their attendance is monitored, judged and fined. The curriculum lacks flexibility. And it is all designed with ableism in mind.
This lack of choice can be damaging for any human being, not just children.
Adults usually have the option to opt-out
Forcing adults into a life without choice could lead to many not-so-good things in our lives, such as unhappiness, stress and depression. However, generally speaking, adults can make choices. They can't always get out of their situations, but there are usually options they could try.
In society, kids don't have the freedom to escape this situation. All decisions are made for them. They lack awareness that choice is a possibility. They are told and expected to do things without question. And they are often silent and unable to communicate how they really feel.
As parents, it's important for us to explore and give focus to how we can offer our children more choices every day. It's an exploration and process that doesn't happen overnight, but most importantly, children learn from the choices they make. We shouldn't take this away from them.
Ideas to help your children make choices
So how can children actually make choices?
This comes from my personal lens through a life of unschooling, so perhaps we have more freedom than most. You can still adopt some of this thinking whether you unschool or not.
Look for Yes and respect the No
Explore things to do that the kids will say yes to and look to expand their boundaries and horizons bit by bit. Help them get excited about things they are interested in. It's great to help them to say yes.
Yet, at the same time, respect when they say no. Don't make them feel bad. Don't create bribes so that they say yes. Respect the no as a boundary.
One of my sons says yes to a facilitated football session every week, twice a week. It's a flat no for anything formal that involves teams and competition. I understand his boundaries.
Choices are an opportunity for discussion
"Cool, you want to do this activity. What excites you about it?"
"That's fine you don't want to do that, can you explain why? What would you choose instead?"
"How was the session today? What was the best thing about it?"
Opening up discussions helps us understand what is really going on inside their head and how their life choices are going. You may be surprised about the real reason behind their choices.
We can design better lives when we understand
We can get to know our children every time they accept, reject or have a discussion around a choice. It's not a failure when we are unable to help them find something they are interested in. It's a failure not to listen and learn. Their feelings and choices are valid.
We should seek to understand them so we can help co-design something better. We are the adults and we are here to help guide them. We have understanding, insights and maturity that they don't have.
Look for other solutions
A choice could be based on so many things. A 'no' could be a choice made from lack of information or an underlying worry.
Seek ways to make the choices happen on terms that work for them. For example, it's taken us quite a while to understand how noise impacts our children. Now it's something we look to accommodate by finding a 'quiet' version of the activity.
Other solutions may be to seek out shorter sessions, being there for the first session, or finding a friend that will go along too.
You are the expert of your child
The world is overwhelmed with advice and opinions. What we often fail to realize is that so much advice out there is irrelevant or even incorrect. We only need to look at the recent past and see crazy and neglectful parenting in action as 'recommended by experts'. We only need to look at our own traumas to realize that we can do better.
By all means, educate yourself, but one thing we've forgotten is how to trust our instincts. Just because things are done one way, it doesn't mean they can't or shouldn't be done another way.
Our children are unique. Be curious about and with them. Find what excites them and what stresses them out. Protect them and accept them for who they are.
The choices they make now will form their humanity and strengthen their ability to make great choices as they grow older.