One of the disadvantages of teaching children to be independent is the need to appeal, disagree, or give an opinion respectfully. Of course, I don’t see this as a real disadvantage, merely a necessary long-term lesson as a result of my emphasis. Some would consider it a disadvantage, perhaps. They eliminate the need for this lesson by rarely allowing any dissent or questioning.
When I ask my child to obey, I’m open to considering an appeal. “Can I finish making this space shuttle?” As long as it’s truly an appeal and not a delay tactic, I have no problem in many cases allowing a request like this. What normally comes out is “I’m going to finish making this space shuttle.” My response is usually, “No, you must ask mommy about finishing. You don’t tell mommy. May I finish making the space shuttle?” Sometimes I will say, “No. Obey first and then finish.” I will do this if I think he’s getting into a pattern of not obeying quickly, or if I simply want him to obey right away. Often, I will allow him to finish what he was doing, because I know that I don’t transition well when I’m concentrating on something important. Recently Bethel started appealing. When I ask her to stop kicking Laurel’s car seat, she replies “A little bit?” She’s asked “A little bit?” several times in the last week or two.
Disagreeing respectfully is another challenge. Right now, David is in a developmental stage where he’s making wild assertions. He saw a contrail and said “That’s a rocket.” When his daddy told him that he was mistaken, his response was “No. That’s a rocket. I know it is a rocket.” This dogmatism is common. Our response at this point has simply been to respond “I am not going to argue with you.” At this point that’s mostly what we’re doing. I will often mention that it takes humility to say “I was wrong” or “I don’t know.” When David says it, or we see someone else say it, I make a big deal about that. I know that David needs to hear Lee and I be honest about our limitations and mistakes. I haven’t yet figured out how I want him to disagree respectfully, so we haven’t made a big deal out of this yet. Maybe when he can understand the difference between dogmatism and deference we’ll start teaching this.
Allowing an opinion also means I must teach them how to give it. A child might say “I don’t like peas” when being served. He might object to the pair of shoes on sale because he doesn’t like the color. He might insist on doing something “himself” or “I do it.” I’m constantly helping both David and Bethel (3 and 2) reword opinions or requests. “A better way to say that is ‘I don’t care for peas'” When shopping for my children, I’ll often let them choose or pick something I know they’ll like (instead of what pleases me). I also encourage the “I do it myself,” except I make sure they’re polite about it “May I do it myself” or “I’d like to do it myself, please”
One of the harder things about teaching independence is the realization that I often make choices for them without considering their tastes or desires. I’m not talking about catering to every whim. David has a definite style for clothing. We’ve been blessed with good friends who have literally given him an entire wardrobe for sizes 4-7. Some of the beautiful shirts he has have gone unworn because he has a few favorites. Right now, Bethel chooses all the pink books from the library. David chooses books I wouldn’t have considered. But I do want to recognize that they are individual people, and allow them practice making wise choices. If they never have an opportunity to even make choices, how can I expect them to make wise choices?
I guess I should go take a nap while all three are sleeping. I’ll get to the laundry and house later.