Don’t we all have times when we wish they would?
Who hasn’t wished for a request to be met by instant compliance. Life would be so much easier if we were spared the ‘Why?’ or the ‘In a minute…’ (which never happens) or the extended debate designed for a wriggle out.
Compliant, agreeable children seem easy to parent but, do you really want a child who quietly acquiesces?
Children are designed to question, it is how they learn. Toddlers and teens especially are engaged in an intense period of self-exploration and how can they possibly figure out their own mind, their values, their sense of right, if we are constantly telling them what to do, what to think, and how to behave.
We adults are great at developing a rationale behind our right to tell our children how to be: “It’s for her own good.” “I have the benefit of age and experience.” “It’s a matter of good manners.”
We interfere in our children’s dress, food, friends, homework, hobbies, education, and down time. We live in a culture that fundamentally mistrusts children to know what is right for their own development. Society supports constant management by adults, and so we feel we ought.
If you always tell your daughter what to do then:
- she won’t know what to do when you’re not there
- she’ll look to others to tell her what to do
- she’ll find it hard to know her own mind when others pressure her to do something
- she’ll find it hard to say no to something she doesn’t want to do
- she’ll find it hard to say no to something she knows is wrong
It’s an uncomfortable connection to make – tell her what to do,
and she will be more likely to let others do so too.
If you don’t leave your daughter’s choice of diet, outfit, work ethic, and friendships to her, then you leave her vulnerable to peer pressure, experimenting with drink or drugs because others are, sexual activity that she doesn’t feel ready for, and unable to stand up for what she believes to be right for herself.
I hope that you will find that if you don’t tell your children what to do, that they make sound decisions for themselves, and turn to you for advice when they need it. Handing the reins over to our children needs to be gradual and age appropriate, but most parents underestimate their children and have a tendency to micromanage. It is not that we remove our involvement in our children’s lives, it is that the flavour changes from one of instructing to one of informing when asked.
So next time your toddler, or your teen, leaves the house without a coat, you could bite your tongue. Let them get wet, catch a cold, and remember how to stay warm and dry next time.
I’m not saying abandon your children to their whims, another day I’m as likely to write about the importance of trusting your parental intuition and, if you sense something is really wrong, having the courage to act boldly. I’m talking about all the little ways that we take the responsibility for minor decisions away from our children and cheat them of learning how to be responsible for themselves when it really matters.
So I would venture, say to a child, “Don’t do as you’re told – do as you decide.“