Last week I stationed myself at a donut shop, while waiting for Sam to finish her Kumon exercises at the center. I brought my laptop and some notes because of all the backlog that’s piled up over the last couple of weeks. I started to go through my list, but I didn’t get very far because I (admittedly) eavesdropped on a conversation happening behind me.
A mom had walked in with her son who seemed to be hounding her for a donut. From the reflection on the glass he looked like he was about 6 or 7 years of age, and she looked like she was tired of hearing “I want a donut” for the nth time that day. She said to him, “Sure, pick any donut you want.”
He pointed to something on the middle shelf. “This one mom!” He said excitedly.
His mother replied: “That’s caramel. You don’t eat caramel.”
There was a split second silence and then he said again, “I want this one instead!” from my reflection vantage point, it seemed as if he was pointing to a different flavor.
“Oh Nathan (name changed for confidentiality purposes) that has nuts. You’ve never eaten nuts, I don’t think you’ll finish it. Pick something else.”
This pattern went on about two more times, where the boy would scan and pick something, which he probably had never picked out before, and his mom would shoot the idea down. Finally he went back to one of his original choices. “But Mom I’ll eat this, I promise!” After 3 minutes of being in line with him, his mother said, “Why don’t you just have the chocolate one instead,” and proceeded to order just that.
I wanted to turn around but I was afraid my face had disbelief written so clearly all over it that it would give my eavesdropping away. I felt for the poor child. It sounded so confusing to me. She said he could pick “anything he wanted”, but in the end she veto-ed everything he said and made the choice for him in the end.
And really, who am I to judge? I’ve said it before, I respect each parent has their own style, and as a complete stranger listening in who am I to comment on one 5-minute conversation. In fact I do believe that she thought she was doing them both a favor by getting a sure bet of a donut that would be gobbled down instantaneously. But then why even give the child a choice in the first place?
I’m certain my husband and I have been guilty of this many a time with the girls. We’ve foreseen that they won’t like this, or won’t eat that, or have told them that this is the better choice. And we both mean no harm by it; in fact all we want is the best for our kids. We know them well enough to — in a manner of speaking — “know better”, and we want them to eventually learn how to discern that for themselves.
So I suppose that as parents, we just have to be more conscious of that dynamic of giving our kids a choice and getting them involved in a decision. Do we do it just to involve them, or because we really want to empower them and make it a true learning process? If it’s the former (and Mom’s or Dad’s way will hold regardless of their choice), then I’ve just learned that it’s not enough. In fact, it could actually pull down their confidence in their ability to make “the right” choices, and hamper their self-esteem.
Coach Pia says that a child’s self-esteem and self-worth is tied to the parents until they’re about age 7. Sending them mixed signals if only for the sake of involving them may be sending them the message: “If mom knows best, then why does she even ask me? I’ll just let her decide.” It may not show now but later on in life, as adults, it will hit them hard and they could find themselves as totally indecisive, unsure folks.
In the recent #BetterMe session with the #SoMoms and with HP Ink Advantage, Coach Pia suggests that parents learn the needs of each child. As parents, we need to consciously take steps to meet these needs above our own. So if we tell our kids, “pick anything you want“, we need to be able to follow through with it and accept the natural consequences of whatever the outcome may be.
Conversely, there is still a way to empower them and involve them without throwing your sugar levels off the deep end with leftovers. Parents can give choices within reason, and agree with the child what the natural order or consequence of the final decision might be. Donut-boy’s mom could have said, “sure, which donut do you want, the plain chocolate one or the one with sprinkles?” The decision would’ve still been his in the end, but he would’ve only been choosing between two proven knowns. If he insisted on the caramel still, Mom could have a) agreed, but with clear conditions or b) been firm but calm about the choice he was given. Either way, it gives them with an informed choice and a clearer awareness of their actions and the consequences thereof.
Up until a certain age, children will constantly seek approval from their parents. It’s where the foundation of their self-esteem comes from. We should recognize this and nurture it. It doesn’t mean that we should get pushed over, as they will (most certainly) test and push boundaries. No matter what, our role is to provide that stable, predictable and non-judgemental environment for them to do so. We can (and should) allow them to contradict us and to challenge us. We allow them to make mistakes and fail, with us. After all, we understand them best, and we don’t (shouldn’t) judge our kids in these growing years. They’re just trying to find their own place in the world. Even if we know what’s really the best for them, part of the journey of life is allowing them to experience the natural consequence of things and figure it out for themselves.
After all, what are a few more calories from a donut if it produces a more grounded, self-assured and self-aware child?
Thank you to HP Ink Advantage for making the SoMoms’ session on Building A Child’s Self-Esteem happen. HP’s vision of having a meaningful impact on society comes to life with their HP Deskjet Ink Advantage high-capacity series. Printing becomes more reliable and affordable without the risks and costs of ink tanks. They claim to print 1,500 per cartridge. Whoa! Talk about building a child’s self-esteem: Homework is printed impeccably, and it’s very friendly on the budget!