Choices Build Responsibility

Offering choices raises responsibility because it is related to the issue of control. A person who makes choices gains control, and having control is a requirement for taking responsibility. Choice, control, and responsibility are inseparable:

Make a choice, and control is enhanced.
Fail to choose, and control is diminished.
Deny responsibility, and control is given up.
Choose responsibility, and control increases.

Here is an example shared with me by a friend who understood the basic need of all humans—of any age—to feel some sense of control over their lives.

My elderly mother was recovering from a very difficult surgery. Because of her weakened condition, she had lost her ability to walk and there was doubt about whether she would be able to return to her home of over 50 years; she was losing control of her life. Although the doctors suggested that weeks of physical therapy could help, she was not willing to cooperate with the hospital staff. She would not engage in any physical therapy sessions that were offered.

As a result, she was being pressured from all directions. After five days, I was able to see her. As I walked in the room, I realized that she was reacting to the fact that she had so little control over her life. Instead of telling her that the exercises were important and that she should do them, I asked her what she wanted. She said that she wanted to walk again and go home. I said, “How are we going to make that happen?”

After several minutes she responded, “I have to do the exercises.” Within a short time she started therapy, really applied herself, and very soon thereafter returned home.

Offering choices also promotes the most important skill for success in life: the skill of making responsible decisions. Responsible behavior is directly related to the number of responsible choices a person makes. Positive discipline approaches—of which offering choices ranks high on the list—motivate children to want to act responsibly because it feels good and because children realize it is in their best interests to do so. In contrast, if we deprive people of choices, we deprive them of positive motivation. By giving children opportunities to make decisions starting early in life, we prepare them for greater success as adults living in the 21st century.