Helping Children Make Hard Choices
How Do Parents Engage Their Kids
About Hard Choices?
Children agonize over hard choices. What group of friends to belong to can seem to define who they are. How hard to study may determine the course of their future grades and class placements. Deciding whether to following rules that they disagree with may make them fear disapproval.
How do we help them think for themselves? How can we help them to think through decisions without pressing for our own agenda yet offer guidance at the same time?
How to Choose Friends
Children often face the dilemma of choosing friends because they are popular versus choosing friends who share their interests and values. These two alternatives may conflict. How can we guide them to think through these decisions?
1. Guide your child to think of friends as individuals rather than as groups. Circles of friends are of course common, but when girls and boys are viewed individually, it’s easier to see who you are more prone to befriend. Let your child know you can be friends with one person without embracing the whole group.
2. Help your child think of whose approval they are seeking. Do they need the approval of a whole group, like the popular crowd, or can they feel proud and comforted by the security of a few loyal friends? Help them examine the value of loyalty and trust.
3. Encourage your child to think of the different purposes of friendship. Some friends are companions because they share common interests. Other friends are close buddies you can confide in. These don’t have to be the same people. Children often aren’t aware of these differences
4. If your child wishes, get to know their friends. Show you are interested in their friendships by offering to take them places, joining in some conversations over snacks, arranging sleep-overs and planning parties. It’s easier to talk to a parent who knows the friend they are referring to when they are working out conflicts.
How to Decide on the Importance of School Work
1. Generally kids know their parents want them to do well in school and seek parental approval. But it helps children a great deal for parents to accept their strengths and weaknesses in different subjects. If children feel you are not judging their achievements, but proud of them for tackling what is difficult and support them for following through, they feel proud of themselves. This leads to working harder at the difficult subjects without feeling self-criticism
2. Children often do better at subjects when they like their teacher. As they grow older, they realize that it is the content to be learned that counts not the teacher’s approval. But this takes time. Help your child see the difference. Point out that it’s hard to focus on tasks given by a teacher who seems too strict and hard-driving because then they feel criticized. However, remind them that they are learning for themselves not the teacher in the long run. This is a hard lesson for children to wrap their minds around.
3. Try to instill the value that learning is for its own sake, not for grades or for approval from parents or teachers. Learning is about adventure, discovery, exciting ideas. The earlier a child revels in their curiosity about new frontiers, the better learner they will become.
4. Of course your child wants to please you, but if you can get across the notion that they are only competing with themselves, you’ve a winning learner. Learning for pleasure is the long run goal.
As you help your child make hard decisions about friends and learning, the best part is the growth of the parent-child bond. When a child knows he or she can come to you with their hard choices, they’ve learned the most important lesson of all: they can think for themselves and you’ll support them while they do it.You’ve helped them become their own agents, the authors of their own lives.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D’s book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, will be released in October, 2015. It will include a selection of stories about mothers and fathers who discover the wisdom of a new parenting mindset.