Should Kids Make Their Own Decisions?

What are your thoughts on allowing children to make their own decisions? What do you think this should encompass? Are there items which you think a child should never be allowed to decide on, or simply not before a certain age/level of maturity.

The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority, have found that decision making can be taught through “Promoting learning through leisure and play-based activities that children plan and are relevant to their interests and other learning”.

Many experts seem to agree that children can be offered choices from around the time they transition into a toddler. These would be age-appropriate choices, and within specific guidelines as set by you. A 2 year-old, for example may be asked if she would like cheese or vegemite on her sandwich; but not allowed to choose anything she wishes to eat for lunch, as you may not wish her to have a bowl of jelly, for example, as her meal.

Child sitting in a large pot.

Children, many experts seem to agree, can be offered a wider range of choices, on a greater number of subjects, as they get older. They must only be given choices actually available to them. You would be unlikely to get the desired response, if, for example, it was time to go to school/ do their schoolwork, but you ask them would they rather do their work, or lay about all day, watching TV. If they choose the latter, which really wasn’t a legitimate option to begin with, you are forced to tell them they can not. This then disempowers them further, as the decision they thought they had the right to make was disregarded.

I remember, as a teen, being taken shopping for school shoes. My mother and I walked into the first shop we came across. She pointed to a pair of shoes I hated. I told her I didn’t like them, and wanted to move on. However, I was told I had to try them on before I decided. I tried them on, still hating them. However, it turned out that the decision was not really mine, and they were the shoes I then had to wear every day, resenting the lack of control I had, every day.

When I take my children shopping for clothes or shoes. I tend to try to let them lead. (Slightly less so for my 2 year old!). On occasion they’ll come to me with something I find inappropriate, so I ask them to find something else they like. On one occasion, my oldest had been looking for a pair of jeans. She saw some on an outing. I didn’t think they were particularly nice, so I told her that if she didn’t like anything in that shop, we could go to a different shop. Holding them up, she said ‘I like these ones’. So I agreed that if she was happy with them after she’d tried them on, we would purchase them. Which we did, and she happily wears them. Of course, this isn’t always the case. On another outing, she chose a packet of singlets which had wide straps on them. I noticed they were from the boys section, but did not mention it. Some days later, she saw for herself that they said ‘boys’ on them. Being a pre-teen, this was enough for her to refuse to ever wear them…

I try, as best I can, to allow my children to decide which clothes, hobbies, books, and toys they like, on their own, and do get a little irritated when one child will tell another that what they are wearing is horrible. I want them to be able to decide what they like, without society, or someone else (myself included) telling them what they can, or can’t enjoy.

Child making notes with a pen, into a notebook.

It is generally recommended that children be given age-appropriate decisions, to develop their own moral compass, and do what is right for them. If you have allowed them to decide something for themselves; or they are of an age where they are comfortable doing so, then many experts will tell you to let them make that decision. Do not give advice, unless they ask you for it. Do not be upset with them if advice given is not taken. Especially, do not say ‘I told you so’. 

Decision making is a complex process, but one we must all learn. A positive outcome from a decision your child has made will increase their self-esteem. A negative outcome is something that they will experience, and learn from. If we, as parents, shield our children from their poor decisions, they will not learn from these experiences. Concurrently if a child asks for your advice in a decision s/he is trying to make, but none is forthcoming, this can also be difficult for the child, who may be feeling unanchored. Particularly so, if they are thrown into it. If a child has not been allowed to make simple decisions for themselves, and then forced to try and make a major decision on their own, they will certainly face difficulty, as they have not learnt the process. 

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