No matter what your dream for your child, one thing all parents want is self-reliance for their child. We all want to enable our children so that they can take on responsibilities, lead productive, constructive lives that are fulfilling and happy.
For children to be responsible for their own happiness, they also have to make their own choices and take responsibility for them. As parents and care givers we have to teach them to be a part of their community and society.
You can take care of their every need, but giving in to their whims is a no-no. It is as important to feed a hungry child as it is to prevent him from wasting food, or throwing a tantrum to eat something (you might consider) inappropriate like too many sweets or fried foods.
Self- governance might seem like a big word to use in context of little children, yet it is the best way to have happy, disciplined children who grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults. Even the most doting parents cannot be present at all times and children who have not been taught to weigh options and make choices may find it tough.
So how can you teach children to make the right choices for themselves?
Start young enough – You cannot try and teach self-governance to a one year old, but by the age of three there are lessons and values that you can try and inculcate. Between three and five is the best time to start as the children are trying to push their limits and test their boundaries.
Start small – It would be impossible to cram a lifetime of learning till the age of five, so pick something that is age appropriate but which requires the child to decide for themselves. For example at age three, you can teach the concept of sharing and instil that in your child. Teach them to share their favourite eats with other little ones. They can also share their toys.
No to instant gratification – Children do not know the difference between needs and wants and will try and get what catches their attention. They have short attention spans but can make it difficult for parents to say no with loud tantrums. Parents give in for many reasons spanning from embarrassment, to mistaken notions of love and guilt. Delaying gratification is one of the best values you can empower your child with, as it will stand them in great stead as a grown up.
Assign responsibilities – Children as young as three can be asked to put away a drinking cup or put away their toys after they have played with them. It may take some time to accomplish, but you would have set the foundation to good habits. Older children can clean up their rooms or put away their clothes and while you may have to redo it to bring it to your standards it will still mean they learn the value of work and take on a responsibility. Keep it age appropriate and you will have a winning formula.
Consequences for shirking responsibilities. When you assign responsibilities you are also tasking yourself with ensuring that they are fulfilled. If it is the chore of a child to put away toys, it might feel easier to put them away when they do not do it or seem disinclined to do it, but enforce it and ensure they do the job themselves.
Making choices and sticking with them – Your child wants vanilla flavoured ice-cream, you buy them that, but as soon as he sees chocolate he asks for that and you give in because it is just ice-cream. If it sounds familiar, it is because we have all done this at one point or another. While there is no need to be unduly harsh, you can reason with your child and buy them chocolate another day. This will teach them sticking to their choices and teach them to evaluate options better. While ice cream may seem very insignificant that is also the reason you can teach them a value with it as you are not denying them anything crucial.
Adult life is full of options and often there is no one cushioning you from the consequences of your decisions. To draw a parallel to the spirit of the republic, if we do not partake in self-governance, we have to live with the choices of others. Children who do not learn how to look after their best interests themselves will not be happy well-adjusted adults. Teach your child how to take control of their options and you will have done the best you can. Happy parenting. Happy republic day!