I consider myself quite lucky to be the third born and “baby of the family”. This means that both my sister and brother had their children before I even started my family and they learned all the hard lessons raising their kids so I could just call on them for advice when I needed it.
I remember my sister introducing me to the concept of “safe decisions” when her kids were younger and it has become a value I really believe in for our little ones. Allowing your child to make their own decisions teaches empowerment and confidence. It develops decisiveness (obviously!) and freedom of choice. Now before you jump to conclusions and think I’m talking about letting them choose what’s for dinner or what time to go to bed, hold your horses! The big decisions still sit with you and they will for quite some time but you can teach these skills in a controlled setting. Pictured to the left is my daughter, Mia Clemencia, and her best friend, Francesca. Consider these two, fun loving girls, their colourful outfits (that they decided to wear!) and allow me to explain safe decisions.
A safe decision involves you, as the parent or primary caregiver, giving two options concerning small tasks. The catch is that the ALL options you present must be acceptable to you. For example:
Would you like carrots or sweet potato for dinner tonight?
Would you like to read with me or colour?
Would you like to play soccer or take ballet classes this term?
Would you like broccoli or spinach at lunch? You need to choose one.
Do you want your hair in a braid or a ponytail?
While they are considering their options, say “it’s your decision” to reinforce that they have the power to choose. This is such an incredible lesson for your child. It may seem like a small aspect of your day and perhaps you are already doing this (good on you!) but if you think you could do this better, just be aware and try to give your child one safe decision tomorrow.
Be careful not to give too many options as that can be overwhelming to your little one and can cause them anxiety because they might want to choose them all. Start with just two options and increase to three once they are of primary school age.
Another great example would be around choosing clothing – a task that shows independence. It can be really difficult if you just say “go get dressed” because there are too many options and there is a 98% chance that they will come out in shorts & a t-shirt in the middle of winter. Instead, set some boundaries and pull out 2 pairs of pants (again, you must be happy if either is picked) and ask “Which pair of pants would you like to wear today? It’s your choice.”
Here we are with my sweet Mia Clemencia again. She wanted to wear her gymnastics shorts but it was too cold. I gave her options of pants to choose from and then conceded that she could wear the shorts over the top. I made sure to tell her that it was her choice (which she was quite proud of at the time!). Note that her long sleeve shirt is on backwards. I gave her the option to put it on herself or I could help her. She chose to do it herself so it was important that I allowed her to do it and did not criticise her attempt.
If we were going to church and it was important to me that Mia was dressed properly then I would have allowed her to choose between two dresses that I felt would be appropriate. You are the parent so you choose when to offer safe decisions. You can still hold the power while empowering your child.
We are responsible for raising independent, decisive and confident children. I hope this concept helps you to do exactly that for your little ones.