Giving kids a Choice

My older son has been in karate since he was 5.  For the first 2 years I would ask, if he wanted to continue before each session.  He’s now almost 11 and a blue belt with some odd number of stripes.

He doesn’t complain about going because, in the end, he knows he chose this.

My rule is “If you sign up, you need to finish but don’t have to continue if you don’t want to.”

My younger son (6) has been in karate for 2 years.  During the last session he mentioned that he no longer wanted to do it.  I let him know that he needed to finish out the session.  He made sure he didn’t have to by breaking his arm.  Ok, I’m sure that wasn’t part of his plan but in the end, he was out for the rest of the remaining time.

When he mentioned quitting, I asked him why.  The reasons were valid though he waffled from wanting to do it to not wanting to do it “It’s such a hard choice.”

I told him that he had some time to think about it since we were approaching winter break.

Winter break is now over and I ask him what his decision is.

“Will I be able to stay home?”   No, because your brother has karate at the same time so you will still have to go.

(This is the part that kills me.  Their classes are during the same time so if he doesn’t sign up, he’ll still have to go and sit there during the time that he would typically be in class.)

“Will my friend Ben be in karate?”  Yes he will.

“I don’t know what to do….this is so hard….I think no.”

So his choice has been made.  Could I have pressed it and forced him to continue?  Could I have just signed him up without even asking?

Sure.   But what message does that send?

Your choice wasn’t good enough.

You can’t choose the right thing.

My approval of your choice is more important than your choice.

I walk up to check out at the grocery store

“Mommy, can I have a candy?”  The mom says yes and little Anna picks up a twizzlers.  The mom responds with “Anna, I don’t think you’ll like that candy”

“Why not?”

“I just don’t think you will, why don’t you pick something else.”

Innocent enough right?  Sure.  But why not let the child pick the candy?  Assuming there are no dietary issues, she’s given approval to pick but only under a predetermined set of guidelines.  What is the child learning through something so innocent?

Your choice wasn’t good enough.

You can’t choose the right thing.

My approval of your choice is more important than your choice.

Making choices is hard.  Choices teach right from wrong, good from bad.  Choices can have consequences, determine futures, can be insignificant as twizzlers or as important as which college will be attended.

Becoming a self-confident choice maker can only be accomplished though making hundreds and hundreds of them until you know what is good for you.

Think about how many times choices are made for children in a day.  It’s no wonder sometimes they just lose their shit for no apparent reason.

Think about it this way, do you know anyone who just can’t make the simplest choice or will go through 23 self-doubting choices before a final answer is made?

As parents, we want to raise children who can make the right choice at the right time but we often raise them under the impression that their choices are not their own.   I’m not talking about safety and or adult input needed choices here.  I’m talking about smaller, more innocent choices like the examples given above.

It’s hard, letting go.  But letting them make their own choices that may turn into a mistake is an important life lesson. They need to learn this life skill.

Will my son regret quitting karate?  Maybe, but he’ll learn from it and I hope that lesson will last longer than the regret.

So next time you child picks up an Almond Joy bar at the store as a treat, let them, they’ll learn that it tastes like crap and won’t make that mistake again.

Life skills people.





9 thoughts on “Giving kids a Choice

  1. Family events take precedence over practices or rehearsals, but for the GAME or CONCERT? Then you’re letting other people down.

    Please send me all of your Almond
    Joys. Yum.

  2. I really like your piece here. By letting children making their own choices, even bad ones, they learn more than when we make the decisions for them. For example, from the age 4 I was given a small allowance by my dad. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted with it.

    Soon you learn that sometimes you buy something you regret, next time you’ll think twice. Also you might find out that you can’t afford what you want, my dad was very clear at those times, I will now borrow you any money you will have to save up untill you can afford it he said.

    That alone is what taught me how to handle money. Through my teens I was the only one that was able to save money, all my friends spend it on silly things. Years later I am still very glad that I was given the freedom to make stupid mistakes, they were the best life lessons my dad could have given me.

    • That is lovely. I really need to work on the money choices as well. They\’re old enough for sure. Thanks for that.

  3. I think truly you are a Montessori mom at heart. I so fully agree with you on choice as a life skill for kids. Also I’m writing this comment from Trinidad, getting my Jen-fix in the West Indies, ready to take your blog international.

  4. Ohh, that’s tough. At the last school my husband taught, he had his big end of the year concert on the same night as another school’s graduation (he’s a band director.) Three of his kids said they couldn’t go because their cousins were graduating and their parents wouldn’t allow them to go anywhere except the graduation. He tried pleading with the parents because his band was small, and missing those three kids meant a good chunk of his clarinet section was gone, but the parents wouldn’t budge – and he reminded them that it was a semester test grade they were missing too. We ended up paying a college friend to drive down and cover the part, which worked out, but he would have rather had those kids.

    It’s tough because my gut reaction is to say “Family first, always and forever.” But now I’ve seen the other side and it sucks when people don’t show up to concerts/games, because then you’re scrounging around to fill those holes in your roster. It kind of is a case-by-case situation.

  5. Re discussion
    If it were choice between practice or family event, I would do the family event. Game/family event–tougher–if the team would have to forfeit due to not enough players I may lean towards the game. But, if possible, I would have him hitch a ride w/another player or have one parent go to the game, the rest of the family go to the family event. Though I do believe in letting the kids make as many of their own choices as possible I would listen to their input on this scenario but would probably pull the mom card and do what I thought was best.

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