Remember that bit in Finding Nemo where Nemo was telling his friends he wasn’t going to go out over the drop-off and his dad raced in, presumed he was going to make a bad choice and started a big lecture? Remember how that ended?
I hear a lot of talk in positive discipline circles about praising kids for making good choices. We can all agree that one of the things we want for our kids is for them to be able to make good choices for themselves. But we don’t. Not really. We say we want our kids to be happy and successful but what we mean is “I want my kids to be happy (how I want)” and “I want my kids to be successful (in a way that is acceptable to me)”. What we really mean when we say a person has made a “good choice” is actually that they made a choice we agree with.
Re-evaluate your approach. Instead of looking for “good” choices, look for ways to help your child make choices that are aligned with who they are.
A really simple way of doing that is values.
Talk with your child about their values. Talk with them about things they value about themselves, talk with them about things they value in their friends, things that you value as a family unit. What is important to them? What do they love about themselves?
When your child is faced with a decision, talk to them about direct consequences but then encourage them to take a step back and refer to their values.
Stop evaluating, approving or disapproving their choices based on your values and encourage them to work on their own.
Trust their choices. Support them.
Instead of telling them their choice is good because you like it, check in with them. Why did they make that choice? Does it feel good for them? Does it fit with their values?
When your kid experiences friendship woes (and they all do), use the same approach. Ask them about how the dilemma fits in with what is important to them as a friend and what fits in with what they value in their friends.
Trust their reasoning. Love them.
When your kid is asked for the first time to get into a car with a friend who has been drinking, they need to have practiced these skills for themselves. They need to make the choice. You won’t be there with them. Remember, as tempting as it is to tell your kids what to do and to solve their problems for them, your goal as a parent is to help your kids grow into independent adults, capable of making their own choices and confident in the skills required to make those choices. The way they acquire these skills is with practise and support.
You are a great parent. You are working hard every day to support your kids, love them and help them grow into whatever sort of wonderful person they want to be. Part of doing a great job is trusting your kids - because YOU have done an awesome job and because your kids are awesome!