Do you think that children are born with the natural inclination to think for themselves?

I do. Early on, their instincts lead them to explore and express themselves without concern for how it will be perceived. Case in point, my one year old’s most powerful means of communicating displeasure right now is to smack the source of her displeasure right in the face. We obviously can’t tolerate that behavior as she gets older, so we are teaching her how to express herself with words. (So far, she still prefers smacking and screaming.)

We discipline our kids to keep them safe and also to guide their thinking to some extent, so that they understand how the world works. But what happens when they start to have opinions of their own? Sometimes, it’s just plain annoying, right? Most of us were raised to be seen and not heard and to just do what we are told. So, I guess I expect the same thing from my kids. I have little to no tolerance when my kids attempt to protest or justify their behavior or when they try to negotiate when I’ve given them my final answer.

At the same time, deep down I admire their conviction. I’m not one to always speak up when I should, so I relish the idea that my kids have not picked that up from me. I want them to grow into adults who speak up for themselves. So, how do you nurture that assertiveness without creating an environment where your children are constantly challenging and questioning you?

As parents, we have undoubtedly experienced ups and downs in life and we don’t want our children to repeat our mistakes. We’re afraid of how they might hurt themselves if we don’t tell them what to do and what to think. This micro-management may be appropriate for a one year old with a smacking problem, but for older children and teenagers, we just end up handicapping them. They must learn to problem solve on their own, to bounce back from mistakes and to accept consequences. They have to find their own truths. We are here to help them find their way, not necessarily to force them to go our way.

Consider the following:

“We need to realize the difference between discipline and thinking, disobedience and thinking, disrespect and thinking. Children are just people living through a smaller body. They must learn to express themselves, to understand who they are and grow into who they are through their own thoughts. Just because your children do not think as you do doesn’t mean they are wrong.”

Chime in! Were you raised in an environment that didn’t embrace diversity of thought? How has that affected you? For those of you with children, how do you find the balance between teaching your children respect and boundaries while still encouraging independent thought?