“The power to choose is one of the greatest gifts God has given humanity. ” (“10 Ways to Teach Values in the Home”)
Ask anyone who has ever had his or her freedoms forcibly taken away—no one wants to be forced to do something. Especially a child! This is a lesson difficult for many parents to understand. Yet it is the final thing stressed in the pamphlet mentioned above, put out by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints several years ago.
Allowing our children the opportunity to help make decisions (personal and family decisions) that directly affect them is vital in helping them learn how to have some form of control over their lives. Have you ever met someone who’s never been allowed the chance to make his own decision? I have, and it’s nothing for a parent to brag about. If a child can’t learn to make even little decisions, how can we expect them to make the big ones?
When it comes to letting our children makes their own decisions (and assisting in making family decisions), be careful these are appropriate for their age and responsibility levels. Someone who is four could decide how many times a week she will take a bath. A child closer to ten could decide on what time he’ll get his homework done (such as after school or dinner).
The great thing about doing this is it gives your children some freedom, but it doesn’t infringe on your family’s nonnegotiable values. It gives your children a sense of control, but still keeps the decisions within your own limits.
I’ve mentioned this before, and I do it mostly because of how important it is: it is imperative that you explain to your children the reasons behind each family rule, as well as the values attached to them. Children deserve to know why you have set up certain rules. Just as parents and adults need to understand why they are being asked to follow certain decisions, children should be shown the same respect.
If you decide everyone needs to be involved in doing the laundry, explain why. Let your children know it’s not easy for Mom to do all the laundry, especially as the children grow and the laundry just gets bigger. For younger children, keep the rules simple. It can be their job to put their dirty clothes in the hamper. They can even help sort socks and put clothes in the drawers. For older children, encourage them to sort clothes into whites, lights, and darks. By this age, they should be old enough to put their own laundry away. Granted, they may not do a great job, (I rarely look in my daughter’s drawers unless it’s absolutely necessary) but that’s not the point.
Look for other areas where children can help set up their own rules. It could be in setting a curfew, inviting friends over, planning family activities, or different household chores. If you let your children help in making these rules and the consequences if the rules are broken, they’ll be much more likely to follow them. Also let your children know why these rules and values are important. It’ll make the learning process that much more potent.
This article was originally published in December 2007. Minor changes have been made.