Giving young people the power of choice

Over the many years that I’ve worked with children, the one practice I always carry with me is the power of choice. Children’s lives often become directed by everyone else, which doesn’t help them develop skills to make decisions or feel happy in themselves. From their routine, food and how to behave, they don’t get to make lots of their own choices and learn the decision making skill.

Autonomy is the capacity to make decisions for ourselves—the ability to self-govern and learn how to navigate this world in the best way we can.

We are all human, experiencing emotions, meltdowns, happy moments, learning new things or overcoming obstacles. It is ongoing and will always be there. Therefore we all desire the same thing, and that is autonomy. It is the capacity to make decisions for ourselves—the ability to self-govern and learn how to navigate this world in the best way we can.

It’s okay to ask others for their opinions, but we can also teach them decision making skills so they can sift through them and decide what’s best. I’ve always seen children thrive when I throw it back and ask what decisions they’d make.

You might be wondering how this applies to your children. Why would we give up our sense of control and hand it over to them when they don’t know much about life yet? The answer is simple. Give your children a choice. Multiple choices if you wish, so that they can learn to make their own decisions.

Instead of deciding what’s best for them, ask them questions to discover what feels right in them. You may know the answer, but that isn’t the point. The point is to hold the space so that they can discover it for themselves.

Giving choices to your children might sound simple, but it teaches them crucial life skills in the long run. The power of choice activates parts of their brain, including critical thinking, memory and emotional connection.

Critical thinking helps them make better judgements and choices. If they’ve been able to explore this in a safe space, they can draw on this skill when making a bigger decision that has more impact.

Activating their memory and drawing on previous experience will help sort through what felt right or wrong the last time it happened. Giving children space to talk it through is also important for allowing the emotions to settle. Ask them what’s the worst or the best thing that could happen? Talking it out helps and also engages the emotional connection in their brains. It helps develop neurons too! Which sets them up for making decisions for themselves.

Therefore, if we always make their decisions for them, they won’t have the neurological development to do it independently. They will often rely on others because it’s all they know how to do—setting them up for peer pressure and struggling to navigate their world.

If they have neurons that connect through developing these skills with you, by giving them choices, then they will eventually feel confident in making their own decisions. They also have the power to see multiple perspectives so they’re much likely become better at working with others.

We will always know more because we are older, with more life experience, and so our brains have already made the connections. I truly believe it’s up to us to guide children in making these brain-connections through their own experiences, memories and making their own choices. You are still in ‘control’ because you are giving them multiple choices and talking it through. But you enable their sense of independent power and autonomy. It’s also really fun to see what they come up with, because they’re already great at tuning in and navigating it!

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