If I had to summarize the moral of’s popular ‘Animal School’ movie, I would borrow the words of King Solomon: “Educate a lad according to his way; even in old age he will not depart from it.”

While there is a plethora of educational strategies that aid us in individualized education, in accordance with ‘educate a lad according to his way’; how can we be certain that the lessons we impart in our children will remain with them in adulthood? What is the optimal manner of imparting values in our children that don’t go in one ear out the other- yet actually become engraved onto their hearts?

Unlike the driver who speeds down the highways, slowing only when his radar detector alerts him to a potential speeding ticket, what is the best way to raise a child to maintain his good behavior- even when his parents are not there to watch him?

I believe the answer can be found in not only teaching our children good habits and virtuous character traits, but also teaching them to make good choices. It’s the stuff that life is made of, the unique capacity that defines our humanity; the ability to choose.

The numerous decisions that we make every day give us boundless opportunities to teach our children to make wise decisions.

For example, instead of simply instructing a six-year-old to look both ways prior to crossing the street, we can add the concept of choice to the directions: “When you are crossing the street you are making a choice to take care of yourself. You look left, right, and left again because you want to cross the road safely to the other side.”

As your child gets older, the conversation can continue regarding healthy behaviors: “In our family we do not have cake for dinner because we choose to make good decisions about what we do to our bodies.”

Equally essential to promoting healthy physical habits, are emotionally wholesome behaviors.

The ability to choose a reaction to an emotion is what gives emotionally intelligent people an enormous advantage in dealing with life.

There is a huge, oftentimes overlooked, distinction between emotions and reactions to those emotions. If someone were to cause me pain, my immediate and natural reaction would be to hurt that person. However, the ability to make a choice regarding the expression of my emotion would allow me to think, “I’d really like to take revenge, but I am simply not going to do it.”

Children must understand that is it ok to occasionally feel anger or contempt, yet it is not ok for them to act out in hateful manner. Teaching our children to name, and thus actually own, their emotions, and then to think and choose their behavior- rather than simply being a slave to the emotion of the moment- is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.

Raising children effectively means preparing children for life, and life has many surprises waiting for all of us.

There are so many things that we cannot control. Relatives, the economy and our health, to name just a few.

A wise message to be internalized by our children, as well as ourselves, is that, “We have little control over many of the circumstances in our lives, however we have total control over how we react to them.”

Making good choices is a learned skill. Along the road to teaching decision-making your child will inevitably make some bad choices. As long as their effect is not dangerous, let the faulty decisions be a stepping-stone for her to learn the art of making well-informed, positive choices.

It is the cumulative effect of many wise decisions- such as delaying gratification and choosing healthy habits- that yield a successful life.

Happy Parenting:)

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  1. It’s all about making good choices. I was especially struck by the notion of having little control over the circumstances that arise but total control over the way we react to them. I always say to my own teenagers…..if you don’t like something, change it. If You can’t change it, change the way that you think about it.

  2. Great advise for young and old!

  3. Wow–Laura that is great. I have stated before that I am Buddhist and one of the main concepts that we try to live by is that suffering is a state of mind. Even in the worst situations we can at least have control over something by being happy in spite of it. I have definitely been trying to instill that in my daughter as I have tried to learn and practice it myself-And you hit the nail on the head with that statement.

    It is hard to give a 3 yr. old a choice sometimes when I know it means taking the time and the work to let her figure it out herself and then explaining everything to her. But I have to make time because I know it means the world to her to make different choices, and when I stop to think about the lessons in doing this for her–It is worth all the work.

    I saw a movie once I think it was called Dangerous Minds–with Michelle Pfiefer. She had a classroom full of troubled/angry kids who all thought they never had a choice. Although I cannot remember how she said it, I do know that she changed the way they thought about making choices. I am going to watch it again as it was a very memorable movie. She drastically changed the way the kids in her class thought about their lives.

    If you have not seen it-it’s a great movie if your ever in the movie store and don’t know which one to choose…..It touches this subject well.

  4. I agree with the idea of choices. As an educator of elementary age kids for 24 years and a parent of 3 starting 20 years ago, I find that the key to kids making good choices is to allow them to make small choices along the way as they grow up. Letting kids decide between the blue shirt or the green shirt, what book to read at bedtime, or even the order in which to do chores lets them have the power of choice and making mistakes in situations that will not have lasting consequences. Another important piece of this is ongoing open communication, which I know is hard with teenagers, but worth working for. This along with kids knowing that a parents love is unconditional are building blocks for success. I may not like what you do, but I will ALWAYS love YOU!

  5. I loved this and couldn’t agree more.

  6. diane warstler says:

    totally agree with all, with emphasis on letting them suffer the consequences of their choices at an early age. better wrong choices at a young age when its not lifethreatning, thnt when it is.

  7. I think it is important to be sure to be an example to your children. Building a foundation of faith, and a love of learning. Children naturally gravitate towards fun learning. I homeschool my kids (only 4 now, the oldest is in college), but I find they learn best, and retain knowledge when they have that foundation of faith, and that love of learning.

    Happy Learning!


  8. My father,may he rest in peace, always imparted to us that we were responsible for what we did and said. My grandfather,may he rest in peace, always told me to count to 10 when I would get mad. These simple concepts have burnt brightly in my conscience and have always reflected how my decisions were made. I’ve passed them down to my children. They are worth mentioning again and again.

  9. What great advice! I’m a foster mother with a teenage girl who has been abused. We can’t imagine what that must be like. Your daily messages have been so helpful and inspirational to me. I wish I could pass this website on to all foster parents.

  10. There is a great book about this called Parenting with Love and Logic. It says exactly what you guys are saying, let them make small choices now that won’t hurt them to prepare them for when they are in a position of making big choices that could really impact their lives. It also shows your kids that you respect them and value their opinions.

  11. A perfectly timed article for this emotionally charged time of year.
    The piece I thought most important is identifying and naming the emotion. If behaviour goes unacknowledged, that person may never realize what he or she is doing or what the behaviour looks like or how it is affecting others. It’s important to know what an emotion looks like from the outside.

  12. How do you teach the parent to use such responses if the parent has trouble controlling emotions, so that the parent can model and teach the proper responses to the child?

  13. I agree with this article about making choices about how we respond to others who are unfavorable and teaching them about choice making; however, I’ve seen children who are given so many choices to make (they run the home in a sense) so that when they don’t get their way in the real world, they’re upset and don’t know how to handle it. They need to be taught that outside the home, they need to listen and respect authority.

  14. A great piece. My 13 year old son has reluctantly taken on the responsibility of his studies of late. This write up has given me the courage to tell him that the CHOICE is his……to make it or break it.The CHOICE has a direct impact on his LIFE.And so be it.

  15. I agree with everything that has been said – I have two special needs boys – 16 and 14 – with the oldest I must say that I overparented him – because he is so impulsive – I always resecued him by preventing natural consequences from happening – I thought that I was being a loving parent – instead I became an enabler – my child has just returned to me after being a year and a half in a secure treatment centre for supstance abuse – so yes – say “No” and allow them to fail – this will help them learn to deal with all these negetavie emotions that teenagers will go through – no matter what we try to do to keep them safe!!!!