This afternoon my wife and I took our sons to the MortonArboretum in Lisle, IL. We have been members there for a few years and go there on a fairly regular basis. Today happened to be a special occasion of sorts with a scare crow walk, food vendors (including some fine micro-brew), and various crafts for the kids. We took the boys to the back of the park where they could pick out and decorate a pumpkin of their choice. Naturally, we paid the nice volunteer for the pumpkins and settled in for some sure to be messy pumpkin painting.
As we sat down, another family with two boys, slightly older than mine, took up the spots across from us on the picnic table. When my boys settled in they began painting their pumpkins without any directions from me or my wife. However, as they got started one of the boys across the table turned to his dad and asked what he should paint on his pumpkin. The dad proceeded to tell both of his sons what they should paint and the boys then began painting their father’s designs. After this happened, my youngest son Kaleb looked up to me, having heard this exchange, and asked me what he should paint on his pumpkin. I simply responded with, “Whatever you want.”
Too often parents and teachers tell kids what to do without giving them the power and freedom to make their own decisions. Kids will generally do what they are told to do…but is that what we want? When they do what he tell or ask them to do, they are learning what we want and in the manner we want. Yes, kids need guidance in life, but guidance and control are not the same things. Give your kids/students tools and opportunities to succeed but leave the decisions and work up to them.