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Help your kid in making choices

Dr Shelja Sen
15 July 2013

Imagine that your 12-year old wants to buy a new pair of headphones. You might take the child to the nearest mall, go to a couple of shops and then buy one that the salesperson convinces you is "the best of 'em all". Now sample this: instead of going straight to the mall, you ask your child to do online research- narrow down on a couple depending on the budget and sound quality and then let him make a choice. And never mind if he ends up making the wrong choice.

Because even if he hasn't got the best money could buy, he would have used the necessary life skill of making a choice and taking responsibility for it. We don't encourage our kids to make as many choices as we ideally should. Either we take it away from them completely: "You have to study in the evening" or we let them have their way: "Mom, I cannot study in the evening!" Suppose we gave them choices: "You have the option of studying after returning from school, in the evening or before dinner.

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What would you choose?" I'm sure it's quite obvious which approach will be most effective. Why? Because just the knowledge that we have choices fosters independence and a sense of empowerment. Research shows that children who are given choices from a very early age start taking ownership of their life earlier. On the other hand, children who are not given many choices end up blaming and holding others responsible for problems they face.

Building Response-ability in your Children

Know what is negotiable and non-negotiable. We do not need to give children choices in areas which are a given. For example, you might give your child healthy choices for the meal planning for the week but you can't give her a choice about whether she goes to school or not.

Elicit rather than impose. Suppose your child resists homework time. If you impose that homework would be at 4 pm every day it might turn out to be a battleground. On the other hand, if you have a chat with him and then work out a time that is convenient for both, you might get him to cooperate. So questions like, "Out of these three time slots, which one works best for you?"; "Where would you like to sit and do it?"; "Which part would you like to start with?" might get him to make responsible choices and stick by them.

Help them visualise. Children can be shortsighted. So there may be times when you may like to help them visualise the possible implications of their choice. For example, if your child is trying to cut corners in a school project, say, "So if you do skip this bit of the project, what do you think it would look like? What would your teacher say/think? Would you be alright with that?"

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Support. Be there to guide him. If your child has done abysmally in an examination, for example, instead of getting angry, ask questions that may turn wrong choices into learning opportunities. "What do you think went wrong?" "Do you think you might want to prepare differently?" "How would you like me to help you?" As wise old Dumbledore put it, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

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