We have to start somewhere: Kids and decision making

little girl ballet shoes, ballet shoes, ballet slippersKatie’s Monday ballet class at 9:30 am seemed like an okay idea when we signed her up for it.

But once we added in the 45-minute drive each way, what was a minor inconvenience at first, in time became a torturous way to start the week.

So, after her last performance, I went online to look at the schedule to find a more mommy-friendly time for ballet.

And as I scrolled through the offerings, I casually asked Katie if she’d like to continue with ballet or go back to gymnastics.

Without pause, she replied, gymnastics.

And I was taken aback, honestly, because I’m not even sure why I asked the question.

She had seemed so happy with ballet…a dream that I’ve always had for her.

But, in that moment, I was reminded that ballet was my dream for her. Not her dream for her.

So, we have enrolled her in gymnastics and she is elated.

Katie Hurley, child, adolescent, and family psychotherapist and parenting expert who writes at Practical Parenting, explains the importance of allowing children to make choices from a young age…

The benefits to giving young children the power to choose are numerous. Children, particularly preschoolers and early elementary students, become easily frustrated when they feel like they don’t have any decision-making power in they lives. When it comes to the larger issues (i.e. safety, bedtimes, healthy eating habits, etc.), they don’t have a lot of choice. Allowing them to make decisions on smaller issues that affect their everyday lives, such as what outfit to wear to school, empowers them. It shows them that we believe in them, and that they are capable of making decisions that are important to them. Children who are given the opportunity to make decisions tend to exhibit higher self-esteem, more assertive behaviors, increased self-confidence, and fewer negative attention seeking behaviors (i.e. meltdowns when things don’t go their way, tantrums, whining, etc.). These kids feel like they have some control over their lives, which empowers them to make good decisions. It also helps hone their decision-making skills, which will be used throughout their lives. Children who are never given choices feel less self-confident, have difficulty making decisions when they have to, and might question their self-worth.

Reading Katie’s words makes me feel good about our decision to let our Katie make her own choice, especially since she’s so little that most of her choices are low-stakes at this point. I know that I will blink my eyes and she will be a teenager and her choices will be so much bigger.

There’s a huge part of me that hopes she’ll switch back to ballet when this cycle is up, but if she doesn’t, I’ll be right there to encourage her to continue to follow her heart.

This parenting thing? Way trickier than I ever dreamed it would be.


  1. Jessica mytimeasmom.com

    I let my kids make a lot of decisions (sometimes I think too many). But I want to know what they want and to give them that instead of forcing what I want on them. And it is way trickier than I ever expected.

  2. Cam nothankyouplease.com

    I wanted Emma to love ballet too. She has no desire. Gymnastics on the other hand is a huge hit. I too am hoping that one day she'll want to do ballet as well. I never knew it would be so hard to let my dreams for her go though.

  3. Sherri

    Oh, these things are hard…especially when we "think" we know what they'd like and it's not at all what they choose! Fingers crossed that she loves gymnastics, and gives ballet a second chance too.

  4. I would like Sadie to have a winter/spring activity. Maybe I should let her choose. Which as you know…will be extremely difficult for me to do.

  5. Alison l MWT mamawantsthis.com

    Good advice – I need to take this all in now, as my son will be old enough to make his own decisions soon.

    Glad Katie is doing what she loves!

  6. My oldest daughter started Irish Step Dance lessons at the age of 3 and she was good! But by the time she was in 3rd grade she was ready to stop. The commute to classes was long and she didn't have any friends from school who did it. It was hard seeing her give up all hard work, but she really felt strongly about it. Now at 12 she plays softball year round, tumbles, and cheers. But it was hard to give up on that dream of the Nationals in Ireland!

    Good luck with gymnastics,

  7. I think it's vital to let our kids make their own choices. Choosing for them seems to be a common parenting fault and I never want to look back and have to wonder whether my son did something because he WANTED or because I made him. Way to go mama.

  8. Oh NIchole. I really needed to read this. So much of my day is spent making the decisions for my family that it never occurred to me how this might impact Maddy. This may just be the key to cutting down on all the attitude and push back I get from her. You can bet I'll be sharing this with Adonis. Thank you. And good luck to you!

  9. julie gardner juliecgardner.com

    Yep. It is SO important to let them get comfortable with making choices now so they can be strong and wise and thoughtful in their choices later…

    …when what faces them is much more difficult.

    Hooray for gymnastics.
    And for Katie having a voice.
    And for dreams. Wherever they take you.

  10. Jessica fourplusanangel.com

    It's amazing how complicated this parenting thing is, isn't it? I want to give my kids choices but don't want to overwhelm them with too many. McKenna loves ballet but only in the living room, when I take her to a class she clams up, I'm hoping this changes soon.

  11. I'm so proud of you for allowing her to make a choice like that. We took Chunky ice skating because my husband thinks that he's going to be a hockey all-star.
    Chunky liked it, but got tired of it real fast.
    Shawn pushed him to keep going but i made him stop. They have likes and dislikes just like us. It's important to foster what they are interested in ;)

  12. John daddyrunsalot.com

    I love hearing this . . . though I fear I'm the "mean daddy" on the "what to wear" front, and I seldom allow choice. But, maybe, my toddler girl is just a nudist, and what's why she always fights what I'm trying to get her to wear.

    I'm a big one in "kids get to decide the entertainment," be it a trip to the park or a movie to watch or a book to read . . . the trick is getting them to come to the same conclusion.

  13. you are an excellent mama.

  14. Jaime ainsleylynn.blogspot.com

    This post is very timely for me. This line especially…

    Allowing them to make decisions on smaller issues that affect their everyday lives, such as what outfit to wear to school, empowers them.

    Ainsley and I have been going round and round about her attire. She always wants to wear dresses, but she only has so many dresses that are weather appropriate. So we fight. Today I gave in and let her wear a long sleeved fuschia dress under a perrywinkle summer dress. What are ya gonna do?

  15. twertman

    You're a good mommy.

    And yes, this parenting thing is SO much trickier than I ever imagined too.

  16. Natalie mommyofamonster.com

    Ethan wants to play soccer this year…and while I dread the sport, how can I say no. I just hope he likes it

    And yeah, this is hard!!

  17. Tina lifewithoutpink.com

    Love this! We do the same thing. Last year when my son didn't want to play baseball – we didn't make it. I come from a HUGE baseball family and everyone was disappointed, but it was his decision. Now this year, he told me he wants to play. We love letting them make their own decision, to do what makes them happy. Good for you!

  18. Hmm, great advice in this post. Last semester, I signed my daughter up for several programs that I thought would be fun for her. By the end of the semester, we were both exhausted with that schedule. Like you, I started asking her what she wanted to do. This semester, we are doing much less… and we're all happier. I've found that letting my daughters make simple choices (such as do you want toast or cereal for breakfast?) also prevents temper tantrums and power struggles. :)

  19. Meagan 1dental.com/blog

    That was awesome advice :) It is really easy to not see the line between our dreams for them and theirs. But awesome for you! :) you let her choose!

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