Many times we get caught up in what our children are doing, or not doing, and forget to take a deep breath. One theme that consistently comes to light in my coaching practice is control. We try so hard, with good intentions, to control our children. When it comes to mealtime, we want them to eat, and eat what we have served. When it is bedtime, we want them to cooperate and go to sleep. When it is time to get dressed, we just want the clothes that we picked out the night before to end up on their bodies. We often want these things to happen in our time frame as opposed to our children’s. We become so used to this control that we have a hard time releasing it or perhaps even seeing that we are exerting control over each step in our children’s lives. We so desperately want this that sometimes we resort to “behavior charts” and “reward systems” to get what we desire from our children.
Our children are born into a world where choices are made for them – diaper changing, sleep schedule, naps, feedings, etc. We, of course, listen to their cues in order to do some of these activities on their time; but for the most part, we are in control, right? If only it were so easy as they continue to grow. As children move into a different stage of development, such as toddlerhood, in which they start to learn about and use their voice, our children begin to want some control over their own life. They begin to learn more about themselves and the world around them. This is when it all begins. They want to be able to do things for themselves. How often have you heard a young child say, “No, I do it,” while you are trying to help them? This autonomy is so important.
What if we step back and take a look at all the things that our children are capable of doing at any stage, and grant them the autonomy to do it? They might be wearing clothes that don’t match, but they picked them out themselves. This alone creates pride and a sense of accomplishment for a child, giving him or her a little bit of control. If given the option at mealtime to put food on their own plate, they might actually take more interest in the food that we have prepared. If they are picky eaters, involving them in grocery shopping or meal planning might prove to be helpful in seeing them eat the food you are preparing. When we look at our children individually and gauge their level of capability at any age and stage of development, we can create an opportunity for them to express themselves and take some ownership over their day-to-day activities. In addition, our children will gain self-esteem, pride, and confidence in themselves.
Our children need to have a voice and feel like they have control over things in their lives, in order for self-esteem to grow. The more we engage them in the areas that they can take part in, the more they feel valued in their own lives. When we do not allow our children to have some say, control, and choices in their lives, we end up with a power struggle. These power struggles can lead to and create a disconnect with our children; however, if we engage our children and offer them the opportunity to make choices in their daily lives, we can foster a more positive connection. While the weight of these choices depends on age, autonomy can be granted at all ages. The smallest rock can have a ripple effect, as can granting autonomy to your child.
How can you empower your children to help them grow in their confidence? Is there a way you can offer choices based on their age and stage of development?