12 Apr Choices, choices
Dr Jonathan Long on the power of choice in a child’s development.
Choice is one of the most powerful tools any parent or teacher can apply in helping to raise a child. The leadership expert and author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” Stephen Covey, tells a lovely story of a student who once asked if he could miss his class.
“Will you excuse me from Class, Mr Covey, I have to play a tennis match this afternoon.”
“You have to play or you choose to play?” Stephen Covey asked.
“I really have to,” replied the student.
“Well, what will happen if you don’t play?” asked Stephen Covey
“They’ll probably kick me off the team!”
“And how would you like that consequence?”
“I wouldn’t like it at all!” exclaimed the student.
“In other words,” said Stephen Covey, “you choose to play because you want the consequence of staying on the team. What will happen if you miss my class?”
“Well, I guess you’ll kick me out!” the student replied.
“Think carefully,” said Covey, “that might be a consequence, but what would be a natural consequence of missing class?”
“I suppose I would miss the learning……” said the student thoughtfully.
‘That’s right!” Covey responded. “So you’ll have to weigh that consequence against the other consequence and then make a choice. If it was me, I know I’d choose to play the tennis match. But don’t ever say you have to do anything!”
“I choose to play the match,” he meekly replied.
“And miss my class??!!” Covey joked!
When a child says, “I chose to do this” rather than “I have to do this” they “own” the decision. They become responsible for it. They become real participants in life rather than helpless spectators. Of course, choices must be legitimate and meaningful to the young person (and, of course, acceptable to the adults involved!). By encouraging young people to make choices we are not always giving them complete control – sometimes we will need to offer choices from limited options.
I encourage you to look for choice giving opportunities with your children. Every time a child says, “I have to do this” they surrender their personal autonomy and sense of control. Making responsibilities a matter of choice increases self-esteem, self-efficacy, self-determination and self-discipline. It develops confident and independent young people who feel in control of themselves. Every time a child is able to say “I chose to” rather than “I have to” they are in growth territory!
Dr Jonathan Long, Principal, Woodstock School