Trust and decision-making

Trust is an integral part of children learning to be good decision makers.    If a child feels they are trusted, they will be confident enough to make their own decisions about many things.      I was looking through Sandra Dodd’s website this evening, and came upon her Principles of Unschooling.    Two that stood out to me were:  1)  Let go of learning as a focus, a concern, an issue – trust that it happens.   2)  Let go of control of your child – trust that they know what they need.    Some examples:  no chores, no bedtimes, no eating controls, no limits on media.

These two principals go hand in hand with decision making.   I know I am going to get into trouble over these next comments, but – deep breath – I’m going to make them anyway.     As members of NYCHEA (New York City Home Educators Alliance) we get newsletters and email posts about a myriad of classes and workshops made available throughout the year to homeschoolers.   We have taken advantage of some of them over the years, but I would say we pass on the majority of the offerings.    If I read something I think might interest the kids, I’ll let them know about it.  Maya usually reads through the newsletter herself, and if she sees something she wants to take part in, she tells me.   The decision about whether or not to participate is entirely theirs.     Only once have I signed Maya up for a class without first discussing it with her, and it was a 4 week self-defense course for young girls.   I knew most of the girls who were taking the class and also knew it was something Maya would most likely want to do anyway.   Because space was limited I needed to make a decision quickly, so I signed her up.

Other than that, I always leave it up to the kids to decide what classes or workshops they do or do not want to take.    I have been criticized for this approach by some, who feel I am allowing my children to miss out on possibly good experiences.    The general refrain goes something like, “If they’ve never tried it, how do they know they won’t like it?”    My answer is, “Because I trust that they know themselves well enough to have an instinct about those things, and to be curious enough to try something new that they think they might enjoy without me making the decision for them.”

Adults do this all the time.   For instance, I have never been skydiving.   And if someone called me up and said, “Hey, there’s this great one day skydiving workshop going on, all your friends are taking it and it’s going to be so much fun!”   I would say, “Thanks, I’ll pass.”   But how do I know I won’t enjoy it?  I’ve never done it before.    I just know.      Why should it be any different for children?

Trust that children know what they need.   Trust that they know what they like – this is as true for food as it is for a class.  Provide them with opportunities and information, but don’t expect they will take advantage of all of them, just because you think they should.    Depending on the personality of your child, making their decisions for them might appear to be working; you might even think they like it that way, but I am wary of the consequences down the road.

As parents we all have a vision in our heads as to what our child will be like, what their interests will be and what career they might follow.   Rarely does the reality match up, especially if we succeed in the ultimate goal of trusting our kids and allowing them to be happy.

Remember how I said, a few posts ago, that I write every day as a reminder to myself about why we life learn?   That goes for this topic as well.   Trust my kids.  Yep, sometimes I need to be reminded of that.    Like on those days when I want everyone to fall into step behind me and just DO AS I SAY!.  (And not, necessarily, as I do.)    Trust my kids.    They are trustworthy.   They’ve proven it repeatedly, despite my missteps.

It’s a life lesson we never stop learning.

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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