How to Encourage Discipline in Children: Principle #6

We have been discussing how we can help create boundaries for disciplining our children so that they might grow up to be healthy, appropriate adults. One of the processes that I remind parents of is that it is their job to take their child through the developmental journey. That is, the journey of being totally dependent on them as parents for custodial care to being totally independent. This means that the decisions that are typically made by parents will one day have to be made by the child, without parental input, in order for them to become responsible adults. So, this principle addresses flexibility in decision-making.

When should a parent allow a child to help make decisions

Help children learn to make decisions.
Flexibility in rules helps children learn to make decisions and become independent adults.

Discipline Principle #6 is significant because it sets a template for future growth. Parents need to decide which issues may be flexible enough to allow the child to express his point of view. Sometimes, select decisions can be made by the child according to rules that he/she is required to honor.

Rules in general, can still be quite large and cover a number of areas in a child’s life. Because you may have several rules, it may be important to allow some flexibility on certain issues and decisions. Children can also grow in responsibility if they are allowed to contribute their ideas to the development of certain family rules.

Some decisions can be made by children

For example, a child cannot decide whether to go to school because it is a rule to do so. However, he can choose what sandwich to take for lunch. The child also can decide what to wear. If the rule is that the child come to the table at meal times, he might be able to choose which vegetable, or maybe even how soon to be excused from the table after eating. A child must get into bed on time but he could choose the story that will be read. Children can have input on these kinds of decisions. It will help them become responsible adults.

We know that what helps a teenager develop the prefrontal cortex is to be offered choices, to make decisions based on those choices, and then to experience the consequences of those choices (whether the outcome is good or not so good). The benefit and learning curve is to experience the consequences of their choices and to learn how to make better decisions.

Use consequences as a teaching tool

What parents and caregivers can do is process the decisions—talk about the decision and outcome—using the consequences as a teaching tool. Such as: “So what did you learn from that experience that can help you with future decisions.” The earlier we engage our children in making decisions and experiencing consequences, the more likely they are to learn and grow in their decision-making ability. Parents can become coaches as they present decision options, help the child implement the decision and process the consequences with a view to make better and better decisions. 

Childhood is a time of life in which decision-making can be practiced. This decision-making process helps with moral development, builds confidence, enriches wisdom and encourages many other positive and helpful characteristics that will naturally occur over a lifetime of consequences. This leads to confidence, capability, high self-esteem and a sense of strength when making hard choices.

Life as adults is challenging and full of strategic decisions. Even some members of our adult population make terrible decisions with life-dominating consequences. That is not what we hope for our children. Giving children input and decision-making responsibilities in an age appropriate way can be a great way to help them develop their brains properly and build confidence in their strengths and abilities. 

So what do you want for lunch today? 

Gerry Vassar,  President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Information taken from Pathways to Competence, Sarah Landy, p. 405.


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