Pick Your Battles, Teach Your Kids to Make Good Choices

Help your children to make good choices

Some things matter more than others

When kids are small every decision gets made for them.  The best they can hope for is to be able to decide between the blue shirt and the green shirt for their playdate with Susie down the street.  I know, it often takes forever for them to even decide THAT, so it’s easier (admit it, easier for YOU) to decide for them.

But of course at some point they have to start choosing things and making up their minds for themselves.

Some things matter more than others, and your kids need to learn that.

So give yourself five extra minutes and let your little one decide which shirt to wear.  Give them a choice between two different things to eat for dinner, and that’s what everyone eats.  They feel empowered, and begin to learn how their choices affect other people.

Compromise is cool!

When Ricky was about 8, he wanted to get his ears pierced.  I said no, for a number of reasons, but mostly because he was far too young to make that kind of body-altering decision.  (And he was going to a Christian school at that time and it was against the rules for boys to have pierced ears.)

He came up with a counter-proposal.  Could he make a little “fake” hoop earring out of some of my colored copper wire?  Something that would just clip on and look like the real thing.  That I said yes to, also for a number of reasons, but mostly because I appreciated his willingness to compromise.  (I still make those little copper faux hoop earrings and sell them in my store for $1.00 each.  Ricky gets $.50 of every sale because he “invented” the idea!)

Now, eight years later, he has absolutely no interest in wearing earrings, so allowing him to pierce his ears back then would have been a bad choice.  When the time comes that you can say “I told you so”, do it!  Gently, of course, and not necessarily in those words, but use it as a long-term life lesson.

Use those experiences to help your child make a slightly different choice and pull off a win-win for you both!

I’m not advocating asking your child his opinion or preference on EVERYTHING.  In fact, there are many times each day that you can’t, or shouldn’t have to, give in to your little one’s demands.  It’s important to teach them that YOUR choices matter as well.  They need to develop respect for the ideas and desires of others.

They may not always get it right

In middle school, Ricky made the choice to not always do his homework, and his grades suffered.  More than once I had to tell him “I’m sorry it matters what your grade point average is now, in the seventh grade, but it does matter.”

Of course I went on to explain that if he didn’t get good enough grades now, he wouldn’t qualify for the Cambridge program at his high school, which would affect the college he would be able to get into, which would affect the education he gets, which would affect the jobs he can qualify for and the career he is able to develop, which affects how much money he can earn.

Choices have consequences, often much more far-reaching than a child can imagine.  Help them see it.

Force a bad choice?

I have heard of situations where parents force their kids to smoke cigarettes–or something stronger–at a young age, so they’ll get sick and not want to smoke when they’re older.

When I was growing up, my father would occasionally allow my brother and me a sip of his beer, or even his Scotch.  I guess he thought we wouldn’t like it?  Or was it an okay thing to do back in the ’60s?  I can’t ask him, as he passed away in 2014.

But beware YOUR choice to force a bad choice on your child.  It could make them sick.  It could be illegal, or at least immoral.  It could also backfire on you.  In fact, if my father’s choice to allow my brother and me a sip of alcohol now and then was to discourage us from drinking, well…it worked with me, I guess.  I’m not a drinker.  Wine once in awhile.  But my brother was a full-fledged alcoholic before he turned 21.  Fought a lifelong battle with booze and depression, and took his own life in 2011 at the age of 49.

That’s not meant to depress you, nor is it a “typical” situation.  You just never know what the outcome of any choice is going to be.  Not for sure.  We adults have the wisdom and experience to make a pretty good judgment, but we’re not infallible.

We all want what’s best for our families, and we do what we think is best for them on a daily basis.

What matters most is that you love your kids, and that you use their less-than-desirable behavior or not-so-great choices as life lessons.  For them AND for you.

Those teenage choices

As your children become teenagers, the choices that life throws at them grow exponentially.  You are no longer with them every minute of the day to help them field those choices.

And worse, in their minds, you’re clueless.  Dumber than a box of rocks.  You can’t possibly have anything important to teach them.

That’s what it seems like, anyway.  But trust me when I tell you that’s not actually true!

They are paying attention to what you’re saying.  They’re paying attention to what you’re doing.  They’re absorbing proper behavior and complex thinking and correct decision-making, even if they don’t show it.  Even if they aren’t quite consciously aware of it themselves.

This is the time when it becomes more critical to pick your battles.

If every little thing they do is called into question, they won’t learn–or won’t care–which things are more important.

Last summer, Ricky wanted to dye his hair blue.  That choice happened to fit ALL the criteria of a no-brainer.  It was summertime.  (Not going to be a distraction in school.)  Many of his friends were experimenting with colored hair.  (Fit in with his peers.)   He got to make a choice that would affect how people perceived him.  (Life lesson: some people are okay with “different”, some people are not.)   And look what a cool Mom he has–she said it was okay!  (This one speaks for itself!)

The big battles

The things I choose to fight about are the “big” things.  Things that are going to make a difference in the rest of his life.  Insisting on performing to his capabilities and getting good grades in school–that’s a battle I stand fast on.  A respectful tone when speaking to me is another.

Only you can decide what the “big” things are for you and your children.  Be clear in your direction.  Be consistent in your message.

Good grades or pizza rolls for dinner two nights in a row?  Respectful, helpful attitude or blue hair?  Which do you think I’m going to choose?  Which would YOU choose?

 

 

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1 Comment

  • angie says:

    Living with teenagers can be very hard to do. It is not wise to be too strong and then again too weak will not do either. It is up to the leader of a group to set a good example and choose battles. I truly agree with many aspects of your post
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