My 16 year old son asked me this week whether he should go to his track practice after school because his throat hurt. I immediately thought to myself that he was just trying to get out of practice and he should push himself to go. I thought that he wasn't being tough or competitive enough if he didn't go to practice. I wanted to say, "Just go to practice!" But then I asked myself what message did I want to send him. Do I want him to ask me whenever he had a difficult decision to make? Did I want him to think I didn't have confidence in his judgement?
I was very glad that I thought before I answered (I don't always do that!). I ended up saying that it was up to him and that I think he could go with a sore throat but he would have to make the decision about what he wanted to do. In the end he decided to go to practice. I know that if I really pushed him to go he might have been a little resentful and angry about it. Instead, he learned that I trusted him to make decisions about himself and that he didn't have to fight against anyone - he could think independently about what he was going to do.
Everyday our children ask our advice and interact with us and it gives us an opportunity to teach them something. I'm not saying that you can never give your children advice. But at some point, they aren't going to be able to ask us for our advice. We want our children to have confidence in themselves. We want them to individuate, or develop their own sense of self. We want them to make their own choices and learn from their mistakes. The best thing a parent can do is think before answering a child, "What do I want him to learn?"
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.