16 Things Kids Should Decide for ThemselvesSerge Bielanko
I tend to think that when it comes to lots of the so-called ‘crossroads’ that all kids find themselves standing at before long, there ought to be plenty of leeway from moms and dads in allowing them some serious freedoms regarding how they want to help define themselves, and about how they wish to live their lives.
I mean, shouldn’t a ten year-old girl be able to decorate her room how she wants? And shouldn’t a 14-year-old boy be able to give up the football team in favor of an after-school job even if dad and granddad were both team legends long ago?
Or do we owe it to these young people to somehow make sure that they understand that we are the ones who know what is best for them?
It isn’t always easy to decide just what we should insist upon and just what we should let them ponder themselves, but it’s worth thinking about, right?
See, I may be wrong here, but I really feel like the very subtle but very powerful act/art of giving kids the opportunity to decide certain things for themselves isn’t connected in any way to one of these ‘free-range’ nut-job style of parenting that says we should let our kids do whatever the hell they want to do whenever the hell they feel like doing it.
Not at all.
Instead, what I am supposing is that when we let our own kids decide certain things for themselves it has such an influential sway on their own destiny that it will sink into their concrete heads a lot sooner. Or at least a lot sooner than if the world is dictated to them by a bunch of grown-ups who mean well, but keep on just shoving the exact same theories, traditions, and beliefs down their kid’s necks that were shoved down theirs and so on and so on back generation after generation. .
Of course, no parent can ever let their guard down at all when it comes to our kids; we have so much to teach them and they need us around for a billion bits of advice. I think that most young people understand that (well, for the most part).
Yet, there are a lot of things that they can probably decide on their own, without too much of our influence, too. And it is those decisions that I think will often be the ones that ultimately convince them that we trust them inherently; and that we love them unconditionally.
Think about it.
16 Things Kids Should Decide For Themselves 1 of 17
Religion 2 of 17
It is completely natural and traditional for parents to introduce a child to the family's religion and to take them to Sunday school or Temple, etc., in the early years. But after a while, it seems like a powerful idea to let kids decide whether or not they want to pursue that religion any further. Sure, they might stray for a while as a young person who wants to explore other spiritual options, but if they do come back into the fold, then they will have done so on their own volition. If they don't, they will have made their own choice. And I think that speaks volumes about true faith.
Play 3 of 17
As grown-ups, we should always be aware of how much of our own experience we try and thrust on our own kids. This is especially true when it comes to how they play. The experience of discovering their own imaginations and impulses is a super vital voyage for each and every kid in the world, we both know that. So it seems logical that we should encourage them to play as much as possible when they're young, but that we try and refrain from too much instruction on what they play and where and when. Hey, the way I see it, as long as they're safe, then they're doing it right.
Image: my kids, Henry and Violet.
Nicknames 4 of 17
Childhood nicknames are tricky because they tend to stick pretty hard once they're handed out. Try to not start calling your kid anything too weird or cutesy or highly regrettable before they are old enough to have a say in the matter. I mean, nothing could be worse than being 12 years old and being called 'Shorty' or 'Big Bubba' all the time by your classmates, right? And if a child ever tells you that they hate their nickname, heed that call and lose it ASAP.
Decorating Their Rooms 5 of 17
Obviously, a baby doesn't have the slightest clue or interest in how their bedroom or nursery is painted or decorated. However, don't think that it's a parent's job/right to take care of that stuff for too long. After all, once a kid is 3 or 4 they usually have some really BIG opinions about favorite colors and favorite animals and which TV/movie characters they wish they could hang out with 24/7. Let them have a big say in that sort of thing. They'll be pretty excited about it, I promise, and later on they'll come to realize how much choice you gave them. That could count for a lot.
Image: my daughter, Violet, in her room.
Spending Their Money 6 of 17
If your kids are older than say, 2 or 3, then they are probably ready to start being able to decide what they want to buy with that crisp 5 dollar bill Aunt Louise tucked in the birthday card she sent. Guide them through the consumer process as much as you can and help them understand (the best that you can) that they simply cannot get all six of the items that they have piled up in the cart. But in the end, let them decide what it is that they get to take home and remind them that it is their job to take care of their new purchase and everybody wins.
Halloween Costumes! 7 of 17
Because I am a big believer in giving kids the chance to decide things for themselves as early as they possibly can, this one is really, really important. Letting a kid decide his or her own Halloween costume can and should be one of our first ventures into letting them make up their own minds about things. It's a perfect storm of certain restrictions and rules (ahem: no $200 zombie get-ups!), but at the same time it offers a young child a great chance to make a seriously important decision in their world!
Image: Henry and me and Violet, Halloween, 2012.
Presents 8 of 17
Another really cool thing that kids should be able to decide for themselves from a young age is just what presents they want to give to friends and family. Of course, this isn't always an easy stream to navigate since the idea of money is somewhat lost on little ones and they see no reason NOT to buy Mommy a real helicopter for her birthday. Just like anything else though, with a little coaxing and encouragement those first few times out, a child will learn a lot from making their own choices. And that good feeling they get from giving a well-received gift will be something they cherish from then on.
Politics 9 of 17
Listen, do yourself a favor and don't ever let your personal politics sneak into your conversations with your kids. First off, they couldn't care less about what you think... or what ANYONE thinks about the deficit or government spending or how the party across the aisle is ticking you off this week. Even for a 12-year-old, that sort of thing should be as remote a care as they have in this world. By never trying to fill your child's ear with politics, we tend to set them up to in a way that allows them to follow in our footsteps as real human people, and to emulate our actions and not our rhetoric. That is huge. Let politics find them on their own when the time is right.
Occupation 10 of 17
Whatever you do, always encourage your kid in whatever occupational dreams they mention. Any toddler who wants to be a fireman or firewoman is one of the coolest things in the world. And if a child says they want to be an astronaut or a comic book artist or Mickey Mouse when they grow up, well those all sound like damn good ideas to me, right? No matter what kids dream of being, we should always just go along with it and never ever waste a second of time or energy trying to egg them on in a different direction.
Image: My son, Henry, age 2.
Food 11 of 17
Look, I doubt that there is a child out there in this vast universe who doesn't hate at least half of the foods parents put on their plate. It's just the way things are, always have been and always will be. Yes, we need and want to present our children with healthy eating options and yes, we need them to understand that good, nutritious food can be delicious too. But don't go around thinking that it sucks that your kid doesn't love steamed broccoli or tofu salad or your homemade organic brussel sprout smoothies, because quite frankly, those things taste like crap to a lot of people, not just kids. Let them decide (to a point, of course) what foods they want to put on the HATE list, and then just work around that for now.
Sports 12 of 17
Youth and school sports are a great way to learn some responsibility, experience team work, and make new friends along the way...no doubt about that, but they're not the only way. And c'mon, sports are not for everyone and that's perfectly fine. Just because you and your dad were both high school football stars should have absolutely no bearing at all if your son someday announces that he could care less about the game and has no desire to play it. A lot of pressure is placed upon young people in America to perform athletically, and that is what it is, but never forget that many, if not most, of the greatest hearts and minds in history never played even an inning or scored even one single point in any kind of game.
Santa 13 of 17
I'll be blunt here. If you ever tell your kid that there is no Santa Claus on moral, religious, ethical, sociological, educational, or whatever grounds you can possibly conjure up to say such a thing, then you are overstepping your parental bounds by a country mile, my friend. Let kids believe in what they want to believe in, especially stuff that thrills them or makes them happy. And if doubt should ever creep into their expanding minds, then let them explore that question in the same way they should explore religion or love or friendship or anything worth pondering in this world.
Image: The Three Believers: Henry, Daddy, and Violet.
Friends 14 of 17
As adults, we are often quick to judge others who we hardly even know. That's why it is such a beautiful thing that kids aren't typically like that at all. Instead, they seem way more willing and excited to get to know a person before they decided anything about them. Therefore, keep an open eye on who your child is hanging out with (like any good parent should do), but resist the temptation to pass judgement on any of their young friends whenever you possibly can. Let them decide who they want be around when they are young and carefree; it's a power that will serve you well in the long run, when your child just might grow up to be a little more hesitant to judge everyone around them.
Dating 15 of 17
Before any of us know it, our little kids will be dating. Oy vey. It's hard to believe, but it is the truth and any parent of any teenager can assure you of that. So, letting your son or daughter decide who they want to date without mom or dad barging in with our own opinions is both challenging and rewarding. We care about our kids so much, we can barely fathom them being in relationship with anyone else but us! By always communicating with them though, and letting them know that we are available to talk whenever, and by eyeballing their choices from a 'unique distance,' we offer up the greatest gift we can give them at a time when they need it most: our full trust. (***Exceptions to be made at the first sign that they are dating a dingbat!!!)
Socializing 16 of 17
Let's not ever get too alarmed if we notice that our child likes to spend a chunk of their time riding solo, okay? Yes, experts tell parents that there are certain alarm bells that should be addressed if their kid NEVER seeks out the friendship or company of others, and that is definitely something to consider, of course. Yet on a day-to-day basis I think that there are many bright, awesome children out there who enjoy spending at least a part of their day just hanging out by themselves and playing on their own and maybe even entertaining themselves in full-blown conversation with a tree or a cloud or a bird. Never fear this. I think it is natural and healthy and totally okay. And I think them deciding to do it proves that their imaginations are advancing quite nicely, thank you.
Bedtime Story 17 of 17
Let me leave you with this thought. Reading a story to your young child at bedtime is born of one of the most ancient and wonderful arts in the world: storytelling. So letting your kid pick out a favorite story to hear, even if it is the same darn one for many months on end, is a simple and valuable way to show them, from an early age, that you love it when they follow their little hearts and make up their own minds. Our kids are our favorite people in this world. And I think that it's such a cool thing to be able to offer them the ability to really help deccide their own path from an early age. I hope you think that, too.
Image: My son, Henry, with a favorite book.
You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.
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