Do you always tell your toddler, ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’. Debra Ouma tells you why you should just let your child be
On a day-to-day life, we all make choices, be it in what we eat, what work we choose to do, how we spend our time and so on. The more you become aware of how, why and what you want, the more you become independent in life. Despite having this knowledge, many parents do not allow their children to make choices for themselves. But few do.
One of those parents is Debra Ouma. If her three-year-old son, Ekwe Weya, wants to experiment, for example by cutting a paper using a pair of scissors, she and her husband let him do it.
If he wants to use the knife to cut a loaf of bread or something by himself, they let him go ahead, as long as they are present to guide him through it. “We let him eat when he is hungry and we swim together at the deep end of the pool!
He uses a floater and I’m always there to help him. Allowing him to venture into the deep end of the pool has helped him build a lot of confidence and he now believes he can swim.
He started swimming lessons, and his confidence while in water is amazing,” says Ouma. Especially now that he is in pre-school, Ekwe has grown more aware of himself and insists on making choices for himself, from his wardrobe to what to carry to school.
“He chooses what to wear during weekends,” she chuckles. She views her decision as an encouragement to her son to learn, although it may seem dangerous to other parents.
Ouma, however, admits that it is not as easy as it may sound, “Even though I make most important decisions for him, it has taken a lot of foresight, strength and discipline to step back and let him make decisions, too.
We limit the choices, so that they are guided decisions.” “For example, when Ekwe insisted on jumping dangerously over items around the house and my efforts to stop him always fell on deaf ears, I got so frustrated. I always feared that he would injure himself. But I let him be, of course keeping a close watch on him.
One time he fell and that was the end of it,” she recalls. However, Ouma says although children need a lot of opportunities to be autonomous and have their choices respected, that does not mean that you let your child be in charge and you can demonstrate that through your confident, decisive, gentle leadership.
She believes that by putting strict boundaries on her son’s choices, he may get scared to explore and learn his world. The opposite will help him develop the power of critical thinking and taking responsibility.
Robert Kakai, a child psychologist, agrees that it is important to let your child make their own choices, but insists that while doing so, parents should keep the age of the child in mind.
“The choices a toddler gets are obviously different from what a teenager needs to make. You could ask your toddler to choose between two options of meals or games or clothes, whereas you could leave the teenager to make bigger choices such as what courses he wishes to enrol in,” he offers.
He says it is even more helpful if you accept the consequences of the choices they make. They will make mistakes, even fail and hopefully, learn from it. Also while giving your child an opportunity to choose, Kakai tells parents to remember that their children copy them.
“So much of our language is anti-choice, change your statements from something like, ‘I had no choice’ or ‘It’s out of my control’ to something like “I chose to do this” or “I always have a choice’,” he explains.
Further, he advises parents to acknowledge every time their child makes a good choice. It could be your toddler’s decision to switch off the television herself or your nine-year-old sharing his toy with a friend or your teen who exercised self-control even in a provocative situation.