With days, weeks and yes (gasp!) months ahead of predictable, reliable routines of school, studying and home, parents have a wonderful opportunity to also help their children learn the art of decision-making. This somewhat sophisticated skill does not come easily to many, and it would appear the earlier one starts in life making decisions, the more correct and on-target those decisions will be.
You may be wondering – what decisions? Children do not get to decide what family to live with, where or when to go to school, what the rules are at home or in school. They are not consulted about curriculum, school hours or policies, major family decisions or financial matters. Most parents and teachers would prefer they have no say about rules, what their homework requirements are, nor what chores and responsibilities they are accountable for in school or at home.
A look at this week’s Parsha, however, shows a different approach. In the very creation of man, Hashem says: Let Us make man. ” (1:26) Rashi explains that Hashem was asking the angels, infinitely lesser beings than He, for advice, so to speak, about what He was about to do. In effect, Hashem was role-modeling seeking advice even from those who are of lesser stature and standing than you. Hashem’s decision making prowess was not improved one iota through the angels’ input. Rather, He was teaching an important lesson that making a decision is not always limited to the one with the greatest judgment, wisdom or experience. Incorporating others of lesser capabilities is superior to deciding on your own, even if you are Hashem Himself!
This includes children! We have put this into practice in school, through our Responsive Classroom approach. Classroom rules are formulated with student input, directed and guided by the teacher. The end result is the children get experience in thinking about and prioritizing what rules will help them best accomplish their and their classmates and teacher’s goals.
This works at home as well. We don’t allow young children to decide what their bedtime should be, but we do give them the choice of what bedtime routine should be. We decide what responsibilities children may have, such as cleaning their room, placing dirty laundry in a hamper, but the children can decide (subject to your approval) when and exactly how those tasks will be performed. Children have a responsibility to complete homework, but how, when and where should be decided by the child, subject to your agreement, and the child’s demonstrating over time, that he or she can keep his/her part of the agreement.
Decision making is never for the heat of the moment. Planning and forethought are necessary, and, in a calm moment, you’ll be impressed with the mature thinking your child will display. Given the opportunity, your child will pleasantly surprise you with his or her willingness to demonstrate a responsible, motivated approach to doing what needs to be done. When a child feels coerced into doing something, he or she will resist. When the need to do something is due to a decision the child made, there will be much more cooperation and willingness to do the task.
Giving children decision making power helps them learn responsibility for their actions, accountability for their agreements and how to make a measured, productive decision. It adds up to good Chinuch!
Have a decidedly wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann