In our society today, we tend to think that offering choices to children is what prepares them best for later decision-making.
In Waldorf parenting, we tend to think that children under 7 can handle small choices, such as do you want your water in the red cup or the blue one but we don’t always offer an alternative to water if water is what we feel the child should be drinking. We don’t always offer a whole heap of explanation either; it may just be built into the rhythm of the day that we have juice with breakfast and with all the other meals we have water. The choice may be to wear a green sweater or a blue one, but not whether to wear the sweater at all as we work with the concept of warmth in the family. The same thing goes toward such things as setting awake times and bed times, rest times after lunch and times of in-breath or out-breath. The Waldorf parent feels the healthiest way to teach a child is not through an adversarial relationship regarding these things, not by having a battle of wills, but by having the rhythm of our day do the talking so to speak. One does not argue with the seasons changing, the sun going down and the moon coming up, and one becomes a rhythmical being by practicing rhythm as set. Negotiation regarding things sets in more somewhere after age 10, and certainly as the child heads into the third seven year cycle, more and more choice heads into it all. There seem to be many Waldorf homeschoolers of age 14-16 and older who are very independent, well-adjusted individuals capable of mature decision-making. I believe this is due to the foundation laid in these early years.
The physiology behind the small choices offered to a small child have to do with Steiner’s view of the seven year cycles. A small child functions in the will, in the body, in the limbs and not in the head. Decision-making comes in during third seven year cycle around the age of 14. If you need further assistance with this notion as seen through the lens of the three-and four fold human being, please do see this post regarding some of Eugene Schwartz’s wise words: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/06/24/waldorf-education-adhd-and-what-the-parent-of-the-normal-child-can-learn/
These words that Eugene Schwartz wrote might in particular speak to you if you have familiarity of the three-and four-fold human being:
“On what basis will a seven year-old make a choice? Invariably, on the basis of sympathy and antipathy. And whence does he get this sympathy and antipathy? From his astral body, that is, from a member of his being that should not be “activated” until adolescence. An analogy might prove helpful here:
We can think of the child’s astral body as “soul principal” which is being held in a “cosmic trust fund” until such time as the youngster’s lower members are developed enough to receive it, i.e., ages 13-15. As is the case with a monetary trust fund in an earthly bank, it is the trustee’s responsibility to see that the principal is not disturbed for the apportioned period, knowing that the interest that it generates provides sufficient funds for the beneficiary’s needs. If, however, the trustee proves to be irresponsible, and the youngster for whom the principal is intended gets hold of it long before he is mature enough to make wise financial decisions, the principal will be drawn upon prematurely. In the worst case, the entire trust will be depleted, leaving neither interest nor principal at a time in the young person’s life that they are most needed.
In the course of healthy development, the young child has just enough astrality apportioned to her to sustain those organic processes requiring movement and catabolism, and to support such soul phenomena as the unfolding of interest in the world. And where do ADHD children have their greatest difficulties? In developing and sustaining any interest in anything for very long! The environments that we create for our youngest children, the way we speak to our grade schoolers, and our inability to differentiate between what is appropriate for an adult and not appropriate for a child – all of these phenomena eat away at astral “interest” early in life and devour astral “principal” long before it has ripened. By the time many “normal” young people are twelve or thirteen they seem to have lost interest in learning, or even in life; they have “been there, done that,” and take on a jaded, middle-aged attitude toward their own future. The ADHD child is only an extreme reflection of soul attitudes that will be endemic to many American children at the century’s end.”
Powerful and sobering words for us to think about as parents.
A way to help your child’s will be strengthened is to model having a will of your own – not a dictatorship, but not being completely wishy-washy about how things are done in your home. Being compassionate, being a good listener, but also being able to hold the space in a loving way.
I would love to hear your thoughts,