We all want our children to become independent thinkers, to make their own decisions, and to think critically. When they are young, we still must guide them, as they don't yet have ALL the info they NEED to make the correct decisions. But sometimes I find the balance of imparting my own knowledge and wisdom while still encouraging my children to think for themselves and do what they already know, is often skewed towards my own knowledge. Maybe it's out of convenience: "If I just do it, it'll be done". Maybe it's ego: "I'm the Mom, I'll just tell them, and they'll do it". Maybe it's habit… when you have young children, you've only recently come out of the stage of having babies, who DID need you to - most of the time anyhow - instruct or DO instead of ask. But whatever the reason, I do find myself instructing my children on what to do, even while knowing they already have the information they need to make a decision.
Example, bedtime routine: I get stuck many nights saying the same things: Okay guys! Please start teeth brushing then put on your jammies! In the midst of instruction, they usually have raced off into their bedroom, picked out books for reading, started building magformers, jumping on the bed, and… sometimes getting jammies on and brushing teeth in the meantime - but to the tune of SEVERAL "reminders". While I find myself getting a little annoyed, looking at the clock, realizing the time for books is getting short. I usually remind again: TEETH!!! This scenario plays out more nights then not. But… they DO know how to brush their teeth. And, they do ACTUALLY brush their teeth, they DO get their jammies on, they DO pick out a book and get into bed.
So why am I still standing around telling them what to do?
As with so many things, a simple change in approach does wonders. Instead of TELLING them what do to: "Time to brush your teeth!" or "Please get your jammies on now!", I have started ASKING them what THEY think needs to be done: "What needs to happen before we can read a book?" or "How do we make sure we have enough time before lights out to do what you want?" The answer, usually, is my kids getting RIGHT TO brushing teeth & putting on jammies. ASKING them (instead of dictating) what needs to be done - and then stepping out of the way while they figure it out - invites them to think, to make decisions in the moment, and start to develop their own sense of time management. Now, they may not do exactly what I wanted in exactly in the way I wanted it, but usually, things get done, on their own, and a great lesson in critical thinking and self-reliance has been taught (while saving my own sanity).
It's not just bedtime for which this would work! I can think of many scenarios in which we parents may feel the need to just step in and DO or TELL our kids WHAT to do, when they are perfectly capable of figuring it out themselves. How about:
GETTING WEATHER-APPROPRIATE CLOTHING ON: It's pretty wet outside. What do you think we should wear to stay dry?
BICKERING SIBLINGS: I see you and your sister are fighting. How can you work together?
TIME MANAGEMENT: Remember that you have piano lessons on Friday. What's your plan for practicing this week?
GETTING READY TO GO: I don't like being late in the morning. What do you need to do to be ready to go on time?
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So… Do you find yourself telling your kids what to do instead of asking them what they think they should do? Does switching from telling to asking work for you? Tell me about it!