The last time I was on an airplane the flight attendant, when we had landed, began to thank me and my fellow passengers with the phrase, “We know you have a choice when you fly…” Yes, I did, and I appreciated someone recognizing that fact. I had a choice but our kids aren’t often that fortunate. When we first deliver the news of the “big move” or the next transition, we are often met with everything from silence to joy (albeit temporary) to downright acrimony.
Many, many things come into play when our children are faced with change of any kind. Some of these factors include temperament, past experiences with change and transition, and their sense of control over their universe. Control sometimes gets a bad rap. Too much control is considered a “bad” thing, i.e. micromanaging supervisors or helicopter parents. Too little control, and there is chaos. So how do our children, like Goldilocks, find that wonderful space that’s “just right”? Well, that’s easy. (Please read just a tiny bit of sarcasm into that comment!) It’s up to us to help them learn about control through choice and effective decision making.
It’s hard sometimes to give our kids more choices because, quite frankly, we’ve been there, done that and we either want to avoid the mess or help our kids avoid a little bit of pain. But the truth is, kids learn best when they experience the outcomes of their choices firsthand…the good, the bad and the ugly. So how do we start?? A big part of sharing control and giving more choice is about being realistic regarding the control you actually need versus the control you like. When you think about the entire process of moving your family, identify the areas where you can let your kids “take over.” Packing personal items, choice of room in the new home, décor choices, possibly even the route taken to get from Point A to Point B can all help children regain a sense of control.
Sharing control with kids is about sharing it on our terms, not theirs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making life a little easier, especially when it comes to impending relocation! But take the time to truly and honestly think about the things you need to control. Do you really need total control over your toddler’s daily wardrobe or can you get comfortable with a little “freedom of expression?” How about the middle schooler who refuses to study for the big science test? Hmmm, that’s a little dicey but aren’t the solutions to the biggest problems best solved by the person on the “sharp end” of the problem?
The reality is, the more control a child at any age feels over his or her world, the better we all are. A sense of control over one’s life and one’s decisions directly impacts self-esteem. In order to have a positive sense of control, a child must be given the opportunity to make choices and experience the outcomes (positive and negative) of their choices. With support from parents who act as sounding boards and consultants, children can develop positive self-esteem through pride in their effort rather than focusing solely on the outcome of their effort.
Dr. Nathaniel Branden, on his website www.esteemedself.com, defines self-esteem as “confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life, and confidence in our right to be successful and happy.” Our ability to think is directly related to the opportunities to practice decision-making skills. Our ability to cope is directly related to experiencing the consequences (positive and negative) of those decisions.
Some thoughts on choice:
- Not everything can be a choice. Remember, the key to helping kids practice the skill of effective decision making is for parents to share control on their terms, not the child’s.
- Make sure you only give two choices at a time. It’ll be hard for you to keep track of everything and your child will likely feel overwhelmed with too many choices.
- Be prepared for blank stares, shrugging of shoulders, and “I don’t know.” Some kids don’t want to make a choice for fear of getting it “wrong”. These are precisely the kids who need as much practice as you can give.
- Think and plan!! This is not often a natural skill for parents. Think ahead so you are comfortable giving complete control (or at least 90% of it) of choice and consequence to your child. Be there to assist, support, and consult but avoid the temptation to take over or rescue.
Moving is no doubt stressful on everyone but by giving some choice and control over to your child, the pain of transition can be reduced…even if it’s just a little!!
For more information about the Moving Families Initiative, please visit www.movingfamiliesinitiative.com.