Parenting- Who Makes the Decisions?
A young child will, if allowed, make decisions for himself, but what world view does he have to work with?
Your child may show a desire to decide what he wants to eat, when she wants to go to bed, who he wants to take care of him, however, does he or she have the overall understanding of what is best for him or her?
What is your child really asking?
Will you make the decisions for me?
Can I be secure that you will make the best choices?
Authority in Parenting: A Guiding Hand in Childhood Choices
“Your children need you to be the parent first, not their friend. They love you because you are their parent – your friendship with them is therefore a given. If you try to act as a friend would you are denying them the one thing they truly need – your parenthood! They are children and you are in charge of them. When they are little, they need you to be in charge of all decisions while they get on with the business of just being. I frequently hear mothers say, my baby doesn't like – her high chair, the car seat, lying on the floor, sleeping in her crib, eating carrots etc. I usually ask them how they know that, and when they decided that the baby would be responsible for those decisions.” Authoritative Parenting.
The Decision-Making Dilemma in Parenting: Guidance vs. Autonomy
Parents have the insight to know what is best for their child and must be strong in their choices. If your child were to choose what he wanted to eat would he choose a balanced diet that will help him to grow and be healthy or will he choose all desserts for the menu?
You know what is best and you will prepare appropriate meals. I knew a family once that gave in to their toddler who would only eat oatmeal morning, noon and night. This lasted into his teenage years.
Can you imagine how that affected the whole family? They could not go out to a restaurant, or over to friends without figuring out how to accommodate this child’s menu. There was constant worry that he would not grow and develop properly.
There was conflict over and over with the child at the center of it. He was in control of the whole family. It is a very insecure feeling for a young child. He cannot be in charge of the family and should not be. He does not have the knowledge it takes to decide. The above situation could have been avoided if the parents had not given in to the tantrum and put their “common foot” down for the good of their child.
The Impact of Parental Decision-Making on Child Development
Another child I knew decided that he wanted to continue nursing; he was close to 5 years old when I met him.
His teeth had numerous cavities, his mouth was formed into a permanent suckling position and he was severely over weight. Not a pretty site but “he decided”.
Obviously this was an extreme case but shows how far allowing a child to decide can go.
What about bedtime. Should you or your child decide how much sleep she needs?
Pediatricians concur that young children need from 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night for their growing bodies to flourish and stay healthy. Who decides bedtime?
You, of course, because you want your child to be well, grow strong and meet each new day with the energy that a good night’s sleep allows.
What about education?
Do you believe that your child knows what is best for him? You are educating yourself about early child development (or you would not have read past the first paragraph) and now you are aware of all the important stages of development and what your child can learn naturally when exposed at those critical periods of development.
Will you leave the decision in the hands of your little one or will you, as parents, choose?
I encourage you to support your child and of course listen to him, but then make your decisions based on your wisdom and be enthusiastic and confident about your choice. Do not be afraid to push through some resistance at first to new situations. If you are consistent and loving and involved it will all work out.
Guiding Older Children
As your child gets older (3 or 4 years old) and is really starting to understand the world around him begin to give him choices. Start by giving 2 “good” choices (be sure they are choices you can live with) like would you like to wear the red shirt or the green shirt. Build from there. Get a sense of how it is going.
You know your child and how much guidance he needs. Keep family rules consistent. Give everyone responsibilities including your children. Make being a responsible part of the family fun and important.
Marijane Schafer is the founder and director of the Montessori Child Development Center in Poway.
MCDC is celebrating over 44 years of serving children and families in San Diego County.