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Teaching Kids Right from Wrong: It's All About Choices

Posted by Jessica Scott

Last year when I was in Iraq, I had this odd dream. I dreamt that my oldest daughter asked me what its like to be a mommy. In my dream, I told her that it was a lot like teaching her to swim. At first, I had to show her that she was safe in the water. Then she had to learn to float with my hands beneath her supporting her. Eventually, I had to let go and let her swim on her own.

A lot of my parenting issues revolve around choices. I’ll let my kids choose dinner once a week. I hope they’ll choose grilled chicken with brown rice and veggies but what I usually get is mac & cheese or breakfast for dinner. But, I also teach them that they have the ability to make choices and when they’re not around me, they have to make all kinds of choices for themselves.

This is especially true for my 5 year old, who started 1st grade this year. She has to make choices about how to handle kids that are bothering her in school. She has to decide whether she’s going to do her chores. She has to decide if she’s going to eat the fruit I send in for snack or if she’s going to trade for some other kids’ snack pack. But because I’ve talked to her about choices, she knows that she is responsible for making them.

Last night, I told both children that if they continued to get out of bed, they were going to lose a dollar (they’re both doing chores and saving up for a specific toy, which is another post entirely). Neither ended up losing said dollar but in the morning, both dollars were gone. I asked my oldest if she took her sister’s and she denied it, even after I told her I was going to check her piggy bank. Sure enough, there were two dollar bills sitting on top. I asked her why she lied and she just shrugged, refusing to meet my eyes. So I told her as punishment for lying, she lost both dollars.

Remarkably, she didn’t freak out (and let me tell you, this is a MAJOR accomplishment). I explained to her that she had made the choice to lie rather than tell the truth and there were consequences. Instead of just having to give her sister back her dollar, she lost both. Given that there was no major meltdown, I’m not sure what lesson she took away from it. I’m hoping that she took away that it’s better to tell the truth, but I’m not that optimistic.

I’ll just be happy if she realizes that her choice dictated my reaction and makes the correlation between her choices and things that happen to her down the road. I’m hoping that by teaching my daughters about choice, they will always look at a situation and consider their options, no matter what the situation is. Because when I hear adults say “I didn’t have a choice,” many times I believe they didn’t want to choose between two bad options.

I don’t know if teaching my children about choice is a good thing or if it will backfire down the road. What I do know is that for now, I talk about the good choice and the bad choice and help them to see the difference. Maybe, in doing that, I’m teaching my daughter to swim without my hand beneath her belly.


About Jessica Scott

Jessica Scott is an active duty army officer, one half of a dual military couple and full-time mom. She squeezes out time to write late at night or on her lunch breaks, such as they are. She blogged her way through Iraq in 2009 and you can read about her journey at She is the mother of Mia(3) and Victoria(5) and is blessed to have good kids who've struggled through a rough time as military kids.

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