The more I work with parents and children, the more I realize that much of the conflict they experience comes down to a matter of control. The older children get, the more control a parent exerts. It’s a battle of wills that invariably leads to a lose-lose outcome.
While a parent’s intent may be to provide security and safety for their children, a controlling parent stifles the sense of responsibility and maturity we wants kids to have. It prevents kids from developing an important life skill – making positive choices.
Of course the solution isn’t to turn over complete control to our children. There are obvious ramifications of this response too. Children need the guidance and mentorship of an adult.
So what is the balance between control and choice?
First, it’s important to understand that control and choice can’t be turned on in full force once you decide it’s time to release kids into adulthood, which is a common occurrence. Parents raise kids with strict control over their decisions and behavior, and then overnight expect them to be responsible adults when they become of legal age.
Control must be released over time and choices must be expanded over time, spanning from early childhood to high school age. Most parents operate in the opposite – granting more choices when kids are younger, and then reigning in choices during the teenage years.
It’s no wonder young adults are angry and resentful toward their parents! Their choices are being stripped away with each birthday.
No matter where you are in your parenting journey, you can offer your kids choices. If it’s something that you haven’t typically done, then ease them into it. The difference is like sipping from a refreshing water fountain and taking a swig from a high-pressure fire hose.
Here are a few tips for teaching kids the power of choice while releasing your parental control:
- Offer kids choices you can live with. Otherwise, you’ll run into kids picking the option they know you don’t like. Also consider whether you’re willing to let your kids live with the consequences of their choice.
- Give two choices, but also make sure kids understand there is a third, implied choice: you’ll decide.
- Consider your words. Instead of demanding, “You pick! You can do this or that. What do you want?” say, “Which do you prefer…?” The key is your delivery. Make sure kids feel like they truly have a choice, not just a decision between two negative alternatives.
Question: What are some of your concerns about granting kids more choices in their lives?
image credit: idea ablaze via Flickr