Choices — the Biggest Mistake Parents Make and How to Avoid It

My heart pounded in despair “I hate! Hate it! I HATE IT!”

“Oh! You look so cute! It’s such a pretty color! Perfect!” they squealed with delight.

I was ten years old and my grandma had come for a visit. She and my mom took me shopping for new clothes. I stood there in a bright orange corduroy dress with puffy sleeves feeling like an overripe kumquat. Between the two of them, there was no way I could get a word in, while my heart pounded in despair “I hate! Hate it! HATE IT!”

“We’ll take it!” my grandma announced triumphantly, and with a joyful smile my mom turned to me, “You’ll get a lot of use out of it. You’ll love it, just wait and see!”

Image courtesy of Unsplash

I never wore the kumquat dress. Not even once. I let it rot in my closet, until it the time came to give it away. But, the sour memory has stuck with me for more than fifty years and has definitely impacted my approach in nurturing kids to make choices.

This is how I go about it –

Whose choice is it?

The first thing I ask myself is, “Whose choice is it?” As much as we aspire to raise independent responsible adults and believe in children’s inherent right to decide for themselves, not everything — especially in the early years — is up to them. In other words, if the decision to be made is not your kids’ in the first place, why hand it over to them? Let’s face it, some things in Life are non-negotiable and teaching this at home is good preparation for the real world.

It it’s their choice, let them make it!

Once you turn the choice over to your kids, stand back, bite you tongue and let them make it. Sure, it’s hard to hold back and refrain from offering advice. What’s more, it takes a lot of patience, because we all know how long it can take a child to choose. But, nudging them one way or another, even if our intentions are good, defeats the purpose — teaching them to make choices.

Many choices in Life are more serious than choosing between pink pajamas with Minnie Mouse or a blue nighty with Sophia, and kids do need our guidance.

I tend to approach it strategically. When asked — and only then — I help kids foresee the possible outcomes of their choice — whether it’s choosing between French or Arabic studies at school or spending their birthday money on trendy shoes or saving it for a new phone.

When my kids were young, I would walk them through the potential consequences of their choice — for better or for worse — and then leave it up to them. When they would plead, “But, what would you do?” my answer was simple, “It’s your choice.”

Do you want it as much as …?

In his book Essentialism — The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg Mckeown shares the 90% decision making tool: If it’s not at least 90% a ‘yes’, then it’s a ‘no’. This approach is quick and easy, particularly when most decisions are intuitive and based on our emotions.

But, the question still remains, “How do you explain this concept to kids?”

Simple: Translate the 90% principle into something kids can relate to and really love. When your kids want something, ask them, “Do you want/love it as much as your … (favorite toy, dessert or pastime)?” If their eyes light up and they scream, “Yes!” then go for it. If, however, they aren’t sure and squirm with indecision, then explain to them that it’s a “No” and encourage them to move on.

By being able to relate to a familiar point of reference, kids can acquire this simple tool not only in the pursuit of less, but in choosing.

Accept and respect.

Once your kids have made their choice — accept and respect it — not a word, no “whatever”, no eye-rolling or shoulder-shrugging — nothing! This can be challenging and is where most parents go wrong, especially when their kids’ choice is not exactly what they want, and may even lead to undesirable results.

But remember, it’s their choice for better or for worse. See it as a life lesson learnt.

It’s their choice. See it as a life lesson learnt.

I will end with a another personal tale -

When my son graduated high school, he came home one day and asked to borrow some money. It wasn’t a huge sum, but the request came with one condition, “No questions asked.”

Wish granted, my son went off. A while later he returned home with a patch on his shoulder and proudly revealed an eagle — its wings boldly spread wide — he had tattooed on his shoulder.

My response — “I just hope it doesn’t poop on you!”

It’s time to take control of our lives!

It’s Time 2 Lead.

It’s time to THRIVE.

PS — If you like my stuff, check out my site and my Head Start Program.