Does Your Child Get a Choice or a Voice?
H.G. Ginott made an important distinction between a child’s voice and a child’s choice in his book Between Parent and Child. Children need to have choices. Giving our children choices builds their sense of responsibility. It helps them learn that choices have consequences; so
they learn to choose wisely. Choices allow our children to become participants in decisions and take greater ownership of their choices as a result. Allowing our children to make choices also communicates our trust in them and their decision making…within the parameters of their maturity of course, which brings us to our children’s voice. Children need choices in areas that fall within their age appropriate responsibility, but they are not mature enough to make all their own decisions. So, in areas where children lack the maturity to choose wisely, or in areas that fall under a parent’s responsibility, our children have a voice only. Some examples might make this distinction more clear.
- A 4-year-old can choose which outfit to wear to a wedding based on two outfits pre-chosen by a parent. A teen, on the other hand, can choose an outfit from a broad array of outfits and limited only by parameters of modesty predetermined by parents. In both cases, the child and the teen have the opportunity to choose. But, the child only has a voice in the two wedding appropriate outfits chosen by the parent and the teen only has a voice in determining the parameters of modesty. These areas of children’s voice remain a parent’s responsibility.
- Children can choose how much of a particular vegetable they want to eat (one helping or two). But, it remains the parent’s responsibility to assure a healthy diet. So children only receive a voice in whether vegetables will be served at dinner. The parents make the choice.
- Children and teens can choose whether or not they want to go out for dinner and a movie with a group of their friends. A parent is responsible to assure their children’s health and safety. So their children only get a voice in determining the time they must be home from the dinner and movie. Of course this voice will increase as your child matures and, eventually, will become their choice when they leave for college.
- Children have a choice when using their cell phone. However, a parent is responsible for their children’s emotional health and safety. So children only get a voice in whether the parent has access to their phone and whether the phone is allowed in their bedroom overnight or remains in a family room for charging.
- One more. Children can choose which age appropriate shows to watch on TV. However, parents are responsible for their children’s physical and emotional health. So, children only get a voice in determining how much TV they watch each day and whether they can have a TV in their bedroom.
In areas that children have a voice, the parent makes the choice. Children can voice disappointment and even anger over the parent’s choice, but the responsibility remains with the parent. Children can even negotiate and give reasons for the change they desire. But, the parents remain responsible for the final decision because they have more experience and greater wisdom than their children.
The distinction between when your child gets a choice and when they get a voice is an important limit for parents to determine. You may or may not agree with the examples I listed above. Nonetheless, areas will exist where you can give your children choices and areas where you make the decision and they only receive a voice. Take the time to recognize that distinction and how it changes as your children grow. It will help you and your children grow together.