I Stopped Telling My Kids What to Do -- and We're All Happier Now

kid choosing clothesIt might be controversial, but I stopped telling my 6-year-old twins what to do -- in certain arenas, at least. They choose what they're wearing each day, what to eat for dinner, and various activities we do. Yes, even at 6.


When our little ones are truly little -- the infant and baby and toddler stage -- we do everything for them because we have to. (A baby that changes his own diaper? Imagine that!) Parenthood is wonderful and magical and I loved doing all the things, but as my kids grew, I decided to relinquish some control and begin letting them figure out things for themselves, to learn to be a little more independent. And to make some decisions of their own.

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For example, I used to veto some of the outfits my daughter chose, but then I realized it seemed like I was insulting her taste. (Sometimes it was strange, but people may think I dress strangely sometimes and that never stopped me.) So I let her wear whatever she wanted, provided it wasn't a pair of shorts in winter. The sense of pride she had when she first began picking out her own clothes for the day was incredible.

And it was for my son, too --  he wears sweatpants with button-up shirts and ties. It's so very him. Just like the clothes I choose to wear every day are so very me. As a grown woman, I can see that if I'd let my mom pick out my clothes, I wouldn't be wearing what I am now. I wouldn't feel like me. I felt the time to start that was early -- I wanted my kids to develop their own style. And they certainly have.

Because they're now 6, I also allow them to choose things for the whole family, like what to do when we want to go out, where to eat, or what to cook for dinner. Having twins makes it a little challenging, so we have a vote if they want to do different things. Or we take turns choosing. I've found that allowing them to be in on the decision-making makes them feel responsible to bring the fun with the choice -- they have a sense of pride in their choice, too.

This has been helpful for my son's eating habits. He's notoriously picky, but when I gave him some responsibility in choosing what to eat, he ate better. And while he probably would choose pizza every single day, he knows that in the same way we don't wear the same clothes each day, we also pick different things for meals.

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I know some parents don't like the idea of letting kids decide certain things because they think it will spoil them. And that could certainly be true for some kids and families. For mine, it's not.

I don't want to fool anyone into thinking this is some magical spell where my kids love all the things they choose all the time. Because they don't -- at least my son doesn't. For example, the other night it was my little guy's turn to choose dinner and I gave him a couple of options based on the ingredients I had. He chose chicken, rice, and peas. I knew right away he wasn't going to eat the peas. But I still served them to him.

Parents of picky eaters understand my plight -- I'm not about to force-feed my kid or create some kind of stern warning that if he doesn't eat his peas, I'll .... And so, because it's there and it was his choice of meal, he tried a pea or two. My hope is that, perhaps after he turns 7, he'll move up to eating three or four.

I have found that giving my kids a voice allows them to truly feel heard and it builds their confidence. It has made them more adventurous and willing to try new things. And it's made us all happier -- even if that happiness comes in the form of two peas.


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