A friend of mine and her 16- year- old daughter went to the regional flea market where thousands of people gather at the “1st Monday” Market every month. While there, her daughter saw (and fell in love with) a baby pot bellied pig that was for sale. “Oh Mom, I WANT it!” was the chorus for the day. At that moment, several thoughts ran through my friend’s mind. First, there were a thousand different reasons why there was no way that pot-bellied pig was coming home with them. She also had to figure out how to keep that pig from riding home. Was she, as “Mom”, going to nix the idea – thereby making her the “bad guy” in the eyes of her teenager? If she chose this, then surely the focus would shift away from the wisdom of the idea in the first place and toward her being the worst mom ever!
Then it dawned on her: She knew that there were sound and valid reasons not to have a pig: The family traveled a lot for sports, her daughter was busy after school and on weekends, and even if they wanted that pig, there wasn’t enough time or manpower in their household to tend to a pig the way a pig needs tending. All she had to do now was effectively communicate these reasons to her daughter and surely her daughter would form the same conclusion.
So that’s what happened – she asked her daughter some questions designed to paint this picture. Who was going to care for the pig when the family was out of town? Who would be responsible for the pig when the daughter was out late at practice? Who would take the pig to the vet? Who would pay for the vet? Who would pay for its food? Before too long her daughter saw the writing on the wall and was, in fact, the first to state the obvious. “Mom, this is the cutest pig ever – but there’s no WAY we can get it”. This was music to my friend’s ears. She had been able to raise the awareness in her daughter’s mind of the consequences of getting the pig without actually getting the pig! The decision had made itself. “Honey, you’re probably right”, was all that Mom had to say.
This is no less true for us. One winter morning we were walking out the door to run errands. We told everyone to get their coats on. Our then nine-year-old son said he didn’t want to bring his coat, so we reminded him that, while it was warm inside, it was a lot colder outside. He said that was okay with him, he didn’t think he’d need it. Knowing we were only going to be gone for only an hour – hence no real danger, we overcame the urge to react as our parents did and to command him to get the coat. Instead, with love and understanding, we simply said, “OK”. Within the hour he was miserably cold and let us know about it in no uncertain terms. We intentionally avoided even a hint of “I told you so” attitude, but instead were compassionate to his circumstances. We reminded him that we had asked him to bring his coat and explained that we did so because we honestly didn’t want him to be cold. What happened next was called “learning”. He said, “You were right. I should’ve known when you asked me to bring a coat that you knew something I didn’t.” To this day, he has never failed to bring a coat when asked.
Here’s the indisputable truth: Whether as “children” or “adults”, we’re going to learn that for every decision we make, there are consequences that will naturally flow from it. We all make decisions every day that affect our lives. Some call these decisions the “cause” of things that happen (or do not happen), and they call the resulting consequences, the “effect”. Those that become skilled at seeing the relationship between decisions and their probable consequences become more skilled at, and more comfortable with, guiding themselves through life, because they know that they actually have at least some control over what happens in their lives. It’s the old, “I do this …one, two…. and then there’s that, three…four…..”
We say that the greatest training ground for seeing the “decision/consequence” or cause and effect” relationship is found when parents practice letting kids make as many decisions for themselves as possible. Start with the minor ones and let them move on to the decisions of greater significance. Sometimes the decisions will turn out good and sometimes not. Either way, there’s learning going on. Obviously, this, as in all things, is where context is king – it’s not always wise to turn children loose with decisions that can risk life and limb – but then again, well, you get the point.
So let’s help make these “little ones into big ones” by letting them practice making their own decisions as early as possible. After all, it’s a skill they’ll use throughout their lives, so you may as well teach them this skill early on.