How will you raise your child?
Instilling good values, a respect for household rules and the ability to make solid decisions in children is a common priority among parents. From the day you bring your baby home from the hospital, you begin guiding him through a multitude of experiences in his life. You hope to foster respect and versatility in your child while also nurturing his sense of responsibility. You apply a mix of examples taken from your childhood, advice from fellow parents and your expectations for his future to devise a set of rules and guidelines for your baby.
It is easy to become immersed in a set of household rules that begin to limit creativity and individuality. From enforcing dinner time manners to establishing your threshold for a messy room, you’ll introduce hundreds of standards to your child in his lifetime. Before he’s 2 years old, he’ll learn there are a distinct set of rules under which your household operates. He’ll also realize he has his own ideas to resolve some of the situations he’ll face in his life.
Your child needs your behavioral instruction and guidance as he develops, but he also requires a bit of freedom to fully develop aspects of his unique personality. While the security of structure and organization is beneficial to both children and parents alike, consider the added value of raising him slightly outside a few of your parameters.
Your child’s entire childhood is a giant learning curve that is filled with limitations, rules and choices. Giving him the safe freedom to help determine some boundaries helps him learn how to make decisions.
Many parents fear their child will become unruly or exhibit disregard for authority without maintaining a completely organized lifestyle. They plan and structure the majority of their child’s world and usually adhere to strict nap and feeding schedules. They also limit their child’s options to reduce tantrums and make everyone’s life run smoother. While this attitude can be effective, it can also be stifling for children.
Seven out of 10 children who are not permitted to make some age appropriate decisions or take safe risks are 65 percent less confident to make decisions on the playground or in the classroom as 7-year-old elementary school students. When faced with a few choices, they demonstrate uncertainty and tend to ask for help making a decision. These children also are more likely to second guess the decisions they do make and demonstrate low self confidence.
Conversely, children raised in an environment where they have options and guidelines that replace a complete battery of precise rules demonstrate higher levels of self-esteem and are less introverted. They are more likely to be independent thinkers, mentor peers and make informed decisions.
In the Balance
Balancing the two worlds of structure and free choice offers both of you the chance to uncover new interests and aspects of your personalities. You may discover his passion for trains from his consistent selection of a shirt adorned with a locomotive. He may urge you to learn 100 different ways to prepare peanut butter for every meal.
Ironically, it also has some unexpected benefits for parents as well. Having a flexible attitude gives you the ability to pick and choose the battles you’ll have with your child.
Living outside the norm does not have to be intimidating. You don’t have to suddenly relinquish all control and allow your household to function without any rules in utter pandemonium. You simply have to be willing to accept some alternative methods to typical parenting scenarios in order to achieve the same results.
The Bigger Picture
Every day brings challenges such as ensuring your baby eats nutritiously. From the proper amounts of fruits and vegetables to limiting sugars, feeding your baby can be taxing. Trying to coerce him to eat pancakes or a banana for breakfast when he’s intent on a jelly sandwich is enough to erode the strongest of parental constitutions.
Consider looking at the task of feeding your baby differently than you previously did. Take into consideration what your child eats in a day, instead of specifically meal by meal to open up new possibilities to feedings. If he favors sliced cheese but not fruits or cereal, try offering him an eclectic meal that includes some favorites as well as your choices. If he eats breakfast food for dinner and a cheese sandwich for breakfast he still receives the proper daily nutrition. He’s merely consuming it at less traditional times.
Loosening up on some rigid ideas such as what he should wear and eat teaches everyone how to compromise. He’ll see your example of “You need to wear shoes, but you can pick which pair to wear,” and apply those negotiating skills throughout his life. Allowing him some leeway with what shirt to wear, or whether to eat a banana or grapes helps him make decisions.
Embrace his independent display of dressing himself instead of critiquing the mismatched clothes he’s put on, and you’ll build his self-confidence in his decision-making ability. He’ll feel free to be creative and explore his tastes and options while applying your guidelines and ideals.
Resist correcting his expressive play habits unless they’re harmful or destructive. If he’s using a toy giraffe as one of his train cars, encourage the expression of his play instead of correcting him that he should put the engine on the train track and the giraffe in the toy zoo. Show him how many full rolls of paper towels he can stack on top of each other to build a fort to foster a diversified view of his world.
Adopting the idea that the quality of his behavior or decisions versus the methods used in achieving the behavior is more important has lifelong benefits. Your baby will develop the understanding for the importance of making decisions at an early age. He’ll begin to realize that the world is full of moments that require him to make a decision. You will also promote creativity that will help him later in life. He’ll learn to take risks and be more confident to do so in school and as an adult.
Gina Roberts-Grey is a mother and licensed clinical social worker.