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Sometimes I think young people end up in college unsure of which way to go, not clear on their likes and dislikes or their interests, because they have not had much practice in getting to know themselves. Maybe this happens if their parents make a lot of decisions for them. And as soon as I say that I think of just the opposite, that is, all the times I’ve seen parents ask their toddler, or elementary school child to decide things they cannot possible grasp. It took me a while as a parent to realize my kids do not have the same frame of reference that I have because I’ve been around so much longer. When you are six and you are asked if you want to do something you do not have any way of knowing what it means. Signing up for horseback riding lessons? Sure, whatever that is.

So somewhere in all this there is a rational way of allowing kids to make decisions without expecting too much. Personally I love the idea of guiding kids to make their own decisions by watching their actions to interpret their interests. Forget asking them what they want….I don’t think they really know. Unless the are so excited it is obvious, I would not trust kids agreement to do things you are not sure about yourself. I am not saying not to do them, just don’t assign undue value to them.

So many decisions, like what time and what day to do something, just don’t belong among a child’s decisions. To me those are the responsibility of the driver and schedule-keeper so they can remain sane, and allowing a child to decide those things make the driver and schedule-keeper slave to someone who doesn’t really know what it’s like to drive or keep a schedule. But, choosing between wearing a red shirt or a green shirt seems just right to me.

Watching kids to see what they actually enjoy, you know, what seems to make them happy, is a gift you can give them that few others would bother to do. Family knows us. So watch your kids and notice what they do naturally, and for free, and for fun, to get to know what their interests are. Then point that out so they are able to see what you have seen. That’s how they get to know who they are. And then insist on nothing. Allow exploration. Encourage activities that relate to their real interests. And if you do that for a childhood they just might end up at the door to college with some ideas about which way they might want to head next.