Training The Unchaperoned Mind
If I had to narrow down just ONE piece of advice for raising responsible children, this would be it.
From the time your baby is old enough to understand anything you say, start teaching him to have a mind of his own.
Don’t wait until their peer groups are their preferred mentors!
By making references to having a mind of their own, you encourage independent thinking– separate from Mom and Dad.
Toddlers have a mind of their own- that IS the problem. The last thing we want is to encourage obstinacy.
Teaching toddlers to have a mind of their own does not equate to permissive parenting.
Say your toddler is playing with blocks and builds a tower. You might say, “I really like how YOU decided to put the red block on the top. What a great decision.” Start introducing the word “decision” at a young age. Use it often in reference to both good and bad behavior.
“Johnny, I see you decided to empty out your backpack in the kitchen and leave it there. What decision do you think you should make now?” This is powerful parenting– in more ways than one.
You are also teaching responsibility, choice, accountability, discretion and boundaries.
You are teaching CHOICE without using punishment or rewards because every decision is a choice. Even toddlers begin to catch on quickly.
When you acknowledge your children’s individual decision, you build self esteem by allowing him to OWN his decision, regardless of whether or not the decision creates a positive or negative outcome.
Mastery is not something that happens instantly. Only with diligent repetition over time. This should not be a new concept when they are 13!
Anytime my children would tell me a story about a friend, a teacher, an experience, good or bad, I would always make reference to decisions that were made. I still do this when I tell them experiences in my own life.
This valuable lesson doesn’t require conflict to be impactful.
Let’s say your daughter likes country music but none of her friends do. You could say, “I think it’s cool you like country music. I do too.” OR you could say, “I love how you decide to continue to listen to country music even though your friends don’t like it. That’s super cool you make up your own mind.” The latter is better!
Whenever your child describes an incident where he stood up for himself, went against the crowd, stuck up for another child, did something good for the sake of the act and not to be recognized, POUNCE ON IT! And when you do, make sure your praise includes, “I love how you made up your own mind when you did that!”
Kids will not be reinforced by their peers, quite the contrary. When it comes to peer review, camouflage is where they get brownie points. Parents must provide this reinforcement.
This story happened recently.
My high school age daughter came home and told me a girl broke a perfume bottle in the locker room and was just going to leave it. She told the girl she thought she should clean it up because of the glass. The girl said, “No way…I’m not cleaning that up,” and rushed out of the locker room as did all of her other friends.
My daughter decided that the safety concern was the glass, and she didn’t want to rat out her friend to the gym teacher. She decided to clean it up herself and then put a note in the gym teacher’s office that glass had been broken and that the janitor should mop the floor soon. When she told me this story, I pounced on the DECISION MAKING aspect of the story more than her kindheartedness (although that was certainly acknowledged).
When everyone left the locker room, she said to herself, “Wait a minute…this isn’t right and I need to make a different decision than all my friends made.”
The strength to make that decision came from an instilled confidence to have a mind of her own. She had been reinforced her whole life of the importance of making her own decisions based on what she knew was right.
When she told me the story, I saw her pride in the fact that she went AGAINST the status quo. It made her feel strong. Why?
Her entire life we linked making up your own mind with being strong.
Adolescents who have not learned to have a mind of their own from a young age are at risk of:
- Succumbing to peer pressure even when they know right from wrong
- Cooperating by surrendering rather than negotiating
- Overcommitting themselves
- Using rebellious behavior to assert themselves
Let’s show our children love by liberating them.
When we teach them early to steer their own ship, we can be at peace when they leave our shore.