Give Your Kids A Sense Of Control

Learned Helplessness
A landmark study performed in the 1960s discovered a phenomenon dubbed ‘learned helplessness.’ In this study, psychologist Martin Seligman demonstrated the effects of helplessness on dogs. The first group of dogs were exposed to electric shocks from which they could not escape. The second group of dogs had this same shock administered, except they could escape by jumping over a barrier, thereby ending the electric shock.

The first group of dogs were termed ‘helpless’; nothing they did would change the administration of an electric shock. Seligman then took this ‘helpless’ group of dogs and provided them with the same opportunity the second group had all along—they were given the opportunity to jump over a barrier to escape the electric shocks. Surprising, he found that even when given the opportunity to escape, the dogs who had learned helplessness would lay down and whimper rather than escape the shock.

The Benefits of Giving Kids Control
Essentially, this study shows that if you learn that you are helpless in the face of adversity, you simply don’t know how to overcome obstacles. It also shows that individuals who are given the power of controlling their destiny and the ability to make choices seek out ways to overcome obstacles. This research is powerful as the results clearly affect children.

What this means is that if you continually make every decision for your child, they’ll lose the ability to make decisions. They’ll take a passive role in the game of life. If bad things happen, this passivity easily leads to depression, since they feel powerless in the face of adversity.

How To Give Kids Control
We’re not talking about letting them choose whether they want to eat sugary foods or a healthy vegetable side dish. Although you should let your kids decide some of the numerous choices they face every day, you should provide guidance as to what the right thing to do is. Here are some example situations in which you can give your kids a sense of control:

     - provide two healthy breakfast choices, let them decide which they want to eat
     - let them choose what outfits they want to wear
     - if you’re arranging a play date, ask your child what day and time they’d like to meet their friend
     - while looking over books to read from, let your child choose his favorite and be good enough to read it…even if this is the 400th time the two of you have read it!

A general rule is that is that you provide healthy choices, whether it be healthy breakfast cereals or healthy ways of dealing with sibling rivalry. Provided with these choices, let them choice which they prefer. Another important point is that you must let your child know their opinions matter by actively listening to what they say and acting on these opinions. This lets your child know that what they believe is important and voicing their thoughts results in changes.

This not only helps your child avoid learned helplessness, giving your kids a sense of control helps them mature and make responsible decisions.

Remember that giving your kids a sense of control isn’t about you losing control, it’s about shifting your own sense of control and focusing more on guiding your child to make the right choices. We understand that parenting can be really tough, but helping your kids achieve a sense of control will make all the difference in the world to your child! Happy parenting!

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