As parents, we appreciate the structure that rules bring to families. Sound rules establish firm, clear boundaries. This creates a secure framework for kids. It also offers them something to push against.
Kids are born explorers—courageous, persistent they strain to discover and understand their bodies, their environment, and their families. As parents, we establish rules to keep them safe while they learn and expand their competencies. It is essential that we remember to constantly expand the decision-making opportunities that our children have.
We permitted them the gift of failure when they were learning to crawl, walk, ride a bike, etc. We gave them the space to grow. Sometimes they fell flat on their face. We swallowed our fear, our urge to protect them from all pain and encouraged them. When the time was ripe, we removed the training wheels, and off they flew literally and metaphorically on their own.
The Golden Rule admonishes us to “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” Just as we desire to make our own decisions, to determine who we will be, what we will do and by what values we wish to live, our children also possess this inner inclination. We must be intentional in the way we prepare our children.
When they were tots, the options were simple: choose the red cup or the blue one, this book or that one, etc. Often it feels simpler (and faster) to make the choices for them. When we do this, an important opportunity is lost. With each choice a child is given, he refines his decision-making skills. In the process, he will yield many positive results and many less-than-happy outcomes.
It is essential that we encourage a child to see failure not as something to fear, but as a learning tool. It helps them reveal their current boundaries and capabilities and opens a path to fill any gaps in skills or knowledge. By allowing kids to practice with easy choices, they can learn when the consequences have tiny life-costs.
Kids who are over regulated by rules never have the chance to practice and discover the responsibility—and consequences— that comes with the freedom to choose. When they become teens, parents can no longer impose their will. These kids can become overwhelmed as they learn “on the fly” because they lack a deep reservoir of decision-making lessons. This actually sets them up for serious failure with significant life-cost consequences.
Allowing kids the ability to choose for themselves is a dress rehearsal for life decisions. It prepares them for challenges, teaches them to face failure with accountability and an eye towards improving. How will you increase your children’s chances to choose? How will you encourage them to learn from the process so they can "fail forward" and become competently independent?