Monday, November 16, 2009

Are We Giving Our Children Too Many Choices?

I have been tossing around this idea for a while. Mainly because a common theme in parenting through toddler years is giving them options and choices so that through making these choices they feel empowered. The end goal is that your child fill their need in becoming autonomous, and individual. As children reach about 18 months of age they begin to realize that they are a separate body from their (in most cases) mother. They realize they are capable of wanting something and then figuring out how to go about getting it. This is a good stage of development, and healthy and completely frustrating for both child and parent. Most of the frustration comes from the child knowing what they want or need and not yet being able to communicate what that need is.

So with our daughter we have entered the age of three, and she is going beyond knowing what she wants, she is entirely capable of letting us know what she wants (with words), and if we tell her "no" she then proceeds to figure out a way of getting what she wants on her own. We often find stepping stools (or "tepping tools" according to her) in mysterious places around the house and later discover a box of crackers missing. Either way I have been pondering the process of making choices, giving choices, what is too much and too little and how we communicate all of that with our children.

Up until recently I have been a big fan of the giving "lots of choices" theory. It seems to work just fine, and we had very little struggle through the 2's. But then I came across another Waldorf lover like me. We sat down at a birthday party after being introduced and talked shop (which in our case means our love for Charlotte Mason and Waldorf educational methods). She, being more educated about the philosophies of Waldorf began telling me about some different methods that Waldorf educators use in their preschools. One of them that I was unaware of is the belief that at times choices are necessary and other times having a set plan with no choices is also necessary. And that expecting children to make decisions from multiple choices all day long is asking too much from them. This is overwhelming to their brains and its best if there are times they are told what is going to happen next. Its also comforting to have a "plan", they know what to expect.

Shortly after this conversation I came across this WNYC Radiolab commentary on choices. There are three short commentary's in this episode, the one that really struck me is titled "How Much is Too Much". In the first few minutes of the show a university psychologist (at Stanford) is interviewed and says (you can listen for the exact words), that he is working with the most privileged kids ever, the schools are giving them everything they could ever want, yet they are banging down the doors of the counseling centers. Why? Because people don't know what to do, they don't know how to choose. They can't face a world where everything is available. He goes on to say that he sees his college seniors facing graduation who have been given the opportunity to become anything they want to be and they are terrified. Why? Because they know that they have so many choices and they cannot bear the thought that they may make the wrong choice. He ends it by saying "Its heart breaking".

As a parent hearing this I am drawn to think about my own child in the situation. Do I want to give her every opportunity to become whatever she wants to be? Of course, but at what point do we push our children too far, and put too much pressure on them to make choices, and not just any choice, but it better be the right choice dammit! I mean lets face it, when I give my toddler choices all of them are good choices. I don't say, "You can paint, play blocks, or run in the street." Every choice I present is a "good choice" she can't go wrong with MY options. But now that she has a mind of her own and she is presenting her own options, my job has switched from making the choices for her, to helping guide her decisions, helping her develop her own sense of self discipline. But beyond toddler and childhood decisions it goes much farther. What about telling our kids "you can be anything you want to be". Well first its a lie. How many of you wanted to be astronauts or princesses? I wanted to be a ballerina who stood on the backs of horses in the circus... yeah we all know how well that has worked out. In reality, we cannot ALL be what we dream to be. Does that mean we tell our kids to stop dreaming, wake up and smell the coffee, get a dose of reality kid! No of course not. We have to find a balance between encouraging, supporting and loving our kids, and yet not giving them grand ideas that may not be possible or realistic.

Anyways, my child is choosing to have screaming-time instead of rest-time. So I should go and help her make the right choice :)

I love hearing people's thoughts and experiences with these things so let me know what you are thinking.

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

In following Charlotte Mason's ideas, we are for having a plan here and there, but we definitely place choices before our children. I think the hardest thing is balancing the two and also taking the time to talk with them when they make a decision on their own(i.e. our 9 year old choosing to play with legos instead of finishing his chores first). A lot of what I have read from Charlotte Mason is engaging their will and allowing them to think through their choices... perhaps even presenting a favorite storybook hero (who of course is a good example) that stimulates the idea of doing the right thing. This is such a broad topic and I'd love to go on and on... but my 4 year old is ready to be tucked in to bed... I think I should make the right choice. :-)