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Should Children be In Charge of Decisions?

Updated on October 29, 2009

I had a conversation with my son's teacher this week. We were talking about children's diets these days and how their diet affects their health. She had spoken with a doctor who feels strongly that health problems are related to all the processed foods we eat that are loaded with chemicals, additives and all sorts of fake things. This led to a very interesting conversation on decisions and how parents frequently feel as if they have no control over what their child eats.  I think we have more control than most people think.

As a parent we are faced with numerous decisions every day of our lives. Our children are also forced to make numerous decisions each day. To the point that it can be very overwhelming. While I think it is necessary to teach our kids how to make good decisions and healthy choices, it is a long process of teaching and learning. The problem comes when parents let their kids make all the decisions.

I see it all the time - from the grocery store to having a play date at a friend's house. Many parents refuse to make decisions for their child and leave it all up to them. Unfortunately for most involved this can be a long drawn out process involving many tears. I see kids in the store demanding a certain type of cereal or a new toothbrush. I hear the mom say, but you already have five toothbrushes at home or we don't need to buy cereal today - AS THEY ALLOW THEIR CHILD TO PUT THE ITEM IN THE CART. How is this teaching your child to make good decisions? What these parents are teaching their child is that they can get their way all the time regardless of the circumstances.

In my conversation with my son's teacher we were talking about food. She said she is shocked at what kid's bring to school for lunch. The most chemically processed junk foods you can imagine. She has talked to the parents before about sending in better foods for their kids and they claim that the child won't eat anything else. But let's talk about making a good choice as a parent. So your child will only eat yogurt. That's fine, but you don't need to buy him the Yoplait Gogurts that are loaded with sugar and artificial coloring. You can choose to buy a different brand of yogurt that is healthier for your child and doesn't contain as many chemicals.

Another example is chips. Children love chips, including mine. I have settled on a happy compromise for my kids. Instead of Doritos I buy Fritos. Let's take a look at the difference in the ingredient list. I just looked at the Frito-Lay website and Doritos Cool Ranch Chips contain over 30 ingredients including many I can't pronounce or spell and 3 artificial colors. I then looked at the label on the Fritos chips and there are 3 ingredients total and no artificial preservatives at all. Yes, in an ideal world my kids would never eat chips, but if they are going to eat them, there are healthier options.

Parenting is hard, but I think it is harder when we allow the child to be in charge of all the decisions. Instead of saying what do you want for dinner, you can ask would like spaghetti or a hamburger for dinner tonight. You are giving them a choice - but both choices are OK with you. When you allow them to come up with any idea you will be faced with a possible run to the grocery store to get what they want to avoid a tantrum or dealing with a tantrum when you say no.

Clothing is another area that I see children having way too much control over. Have you ever seen a child playing at the playground in shorts and a t-shirt - on a 40 degree day? I have seen way too many kids not dressed appropriately for the weather. As a parent you do have control over the situation - even though many don't think so. When winter hits pack up the summer clothes. The only options left for your child should be appropriate for the weather. While you are taking control of situations this way, be sure to talk to your child about things so that they will learn. Tell your child that the weather is too cold to wear summer clothes so you are putting them away until next year. This will help them make better decisions in the future.

There is a fine line to walk though. As a parent it is easier sometimes to just make all the choices. In fact, remembering back to when I was a kid I don't remember many times that I was given a choice. I don't want to be that way either. It is a fact that we will be faced with a steady stream of decision making opportunities as we go through life. As a parent it is our job to teach our kids to make good decisions. BUT we can't just let them make all the decisions. We have to guide them, give them limited options in the beginning and as they get older open things up with more choices.

We are in the process of teaching my kids to avoid all artificial coloring in foods. We are doing this differently with my 7 year old than we are with my 11 year old. As kids get older they need to be in charge of more and more decisions, so they will succeed in the real world. The problem I see is that parents hand over that control way to early in life. If you are a parent struggling with your kids, try taking back some of the decision making and see if that helps. Good luck!


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    • thirdmillenium profile image


      9 years ago from Here, There, Everywhere

      You could be at your wit's end making your child see your point. In many situations, it is you who has to give in which could be frustrating. But there it is. You have given some insights into the problems. Thanks

    • rebekahELLE profile image


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      nice article Jennifer and you bring up some important topics.

      when I worked in a private pre-school I too was amazed at what these upper middle class, educated parents were putting in their child's lunches. I would send home periodically recipes and ideas for healthy lunches, posted a healthy foods/lunches chart right by the door and that helped for those that were interested.

      it's all about convenience and sadly many young children learn their addictions straight from their parents. good for you in helping your children learn about healthy eating! I hope others will join you. :)

    • Dark knight rides profile image

      Dark knight rides 

      9 years ago from Denver

      Working in a treatment center, I see the extreme effects that occur when kids are given the option to make all their choices unguided. As adults and parents, we have a responsibility to teach kids how to make choices. And at some point they will be responsible to make their own, but we lay the groundwork for their decision making style.

      I think part of it is an overreaction to the parenting style of our parents, who were taught that kids need to be protected and told what to do. So many parents overcompensate by allowing their kids the "freedom" to make their own choices, forgetting that the kids have no knowledge base to make an informed choice.

      As parents, we have to teach and guide our kids, and part of that is involving them in decisions by giving them the information and helping them choose.

    • Specialk3749 profile image

      Karen Metz 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      I agree, the majority of parents let their children have way too much freedom in their choices. On the other hand,there are times to let them make their own "bad" choices. I did an experiment with one of my children over shoes. It was winter and we had not put away all the summer clothes. My daughter wanted to wear sandals. I told her "no" and she continued to say "why", etc.. I finally told her to go ahead. It wasn't long after stepping into a foot of snow that she returned to get her socks and shoes on! She learned that day that "mom knows what is best". I didn't have to argue or anything with her...I just let her make a bad decision and she learned from the consequences. Of course, this wasn't a long term with eating the wrong foods...but, it did teach her to listen to me.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      You make some very good points. From a grandmother's perspective with a 12 year old grandchild in the house, food choices are a profound issue because they set the foundation for life. I'm in favor of teaching children from an early age the implications of making choices -- yet at the same time think far too many parents today leave too much in the hands of children -- a little dictatorship or out-thinking the kids goes a long ways -- just like your very good box up the summer clothes suggestion. If it's not there the correct choice is a whole lot easier.

    • jim10 profile image


      9 years ago from ma

      I gotta tell you. It sure can be tough taking my 9, 7 and 16 month old boys to the grocery store. The older boys want all of the junk food they see at their perfect eye level with the bright packaging. I will let them pick out a few bad ones. But, in general I try to get to Trader Joe's for our snacks. I feel their products taste better and are healthier than the typical chips and candies. My kids love nuts and it is great getting those there too. Thanks about the corn chips. I honestly figured they were just as bad as Doritos. My kids love the multigrain and blue Tortilla chips. I usually stick with those as a replacement. My younger sons love most fruits. But, my oldest is a lot more picky. But, he does eat his dinner for the most part while the middle one almost always says he doesn't like whatever I make. Vegetables are the toughest things to get my kids to eat. Each will eat a few different ones. So it is tough making dinner that all will eat. Luckily clothes have not been an issue.

    • breakfastpop profile image


      9 years ago

      Too much choice makes kid's afraid. They want the guidance, because it gives them a secure feeling, even if they pretend not to appreciate it.


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