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.