Making Decisions for Our Children

4:05 pmin Articles Jan Cloninger

Now that the holidays are over I feel compelled to reassess and regroup.  Where have I been and where am I going?  What do I want to continue and what do I want to let go of?  With the New Year comes a fresh slate, but how do we decide what is worth our effort?  Is it an illusion to think that we have control over our lives, or will each decision impact our future?  Pretty deep questions but they all relate to how we choose to parent.

DecisionEach one of us is born into an environment that shapes the way we feel about the world and what it has to offer.  Layer onto that societal influences and our own temperaments/personalities and we have a unique blend that is unlike anyone else.  So when we look at our children we need to be prepared for the unexpected.  None of them is going to be exactly like mom or dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt or uncle.  Each child will be an individual with his own potential and it’s up to us as parents to figure out how to prepare him/her for life.

Making decisions for our children can sometimes be daunting.

You sign your 5-year-old up for T-Ball and he loses interest after the first practice. You try swimming lessons for your school age daughter and she hates getting undressed and putting on a swimsuit. You think guitar lessons may help your pre-teen meet the challenges of “finding himself,” but he refuses to practice. Your teenaged daughter rejects every after-school activity you think would help her make new friends.  It’s a struggle at every developmental stage and the questions always linger: “Am I doing the right thing and does it really matter?”

The answer is, we don’t know, at least not right away, and it does matter, especially if we hear what our children are telling us. As parents we are working from our own limited experience and what the “experts” say, when the experts are really our children themselves.  Our job is to listen, be aware and be patient.  From the moment our children are born we can get an idea of who they are by how they meet the world.  Some arrive wide-eyed and quiet, taking in their surroundings with a calm demeanor while others are kicking and screaming from the minute they take in their first breath.  As they get older we can help them cope with their individual challenges by understanding that their experiences, abilities and temperaments may be totally different than our own.  By honoring who they are, responding to them in a positive way and respecting their view of the world we can help them thrive.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Be aware. Always take the time to observe before helping your child make a decision.
  • Keep communication open. Whether interacting with an infant or a young adult, send the message that you are listening, first through your actions (comforting a crying baby) and then through your words as developmentally appropriate.  Your school age child will understand your feelings and the atmosphere you create long before your adolescent can understand the reasoning prompting your actions.
  • Get to know your child.  What motivates him?  What holds her interest?  In what environments are they the happiest, outdoors with a place to run or sitting quietly reading or trying to figure out how to solve a problem?
  • Get input from others.  How do other family members and teachers view your child’s strengths?  Focus on the positives in order to accentuate them and utilize them for success.
  • Have confidence in your decisions.  Do your homework and make the best decision, watch your child’s response and temper the decision when necessary.  It will be hard to know when to take a stand and help your child follow through, but if you’re attuned to your child and respond to his/her needs it will be a positive learning experience regardless of the outcome.  The process is what’s important.

We’ll talk about standing your ground or how and when to stand firm in another article.

Questions to consider:

  • How does your child approach the world?  Do you see patterns in the way they take in and respond to people, experiences, and/or challenges?
  • Based on what you observe and what others say, what are your child’s greatest gifts and strengths?
  • What process do you use to make decisions in your life?  What are you modeling for your child?
  • How comfortable are you with revisiting decisions and perhaps taking a different approach if you discover circumstances aren’t working out as originally planned?
  • Are you able to identify and focus on the process versus the outcomes when appropriate?

Conversation starters:

  • Part of growing up is being able to make more and more decisions on your own.
  • Some decisions you’re old enough to make totally on your own.  Some we need to talk about and decide on together.  Sometimes, I need to make decisions on your behalf.
  • Wow, I can see how you thought that through and made a really good choice.
  • I understand why you made the choice you did, but as you look back on it now, do you wish you would have chosen differently?
  • What can we learn from the choices we’ve made in the past that might help us with future decisions or in similar situations?

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