The Most Basic Freedom is Freedom to Quit: "In general, children are the most brutalized of people, not because they are small and weak, but because they don’t have the same freedoms to quit that adults have."
I often hear parents extolling a "stick-to-it-ness" attitude, suggesting that if their two-year-old doesn't complete her baby yoga series or their 10-year-old doesn't plod through his unhappy drum lessons, their children will never learn responsibility, and perseverance, and the ability to execute. Children don't learn these qualities through coercion; they learn them through freedom and opportunity. As Gray states: "Children love to learn, but, like all of us, they hate to be coerced, micromanaged, and continuously judged. They love to learn in their own ways, not in ways that others force on them."
It makes me sad when I hear parents say that kids need to learn to do things they may not like because "we all have to do things we don't like." Really? This is what we want for our children? Subjecting them to misery and oppression so they will somehow, we surmise, grow stronger?
All children, all humans, will adapt to their surroundings given appropriate time. This is a basic function of human evolution. But I think most parents want for their children to thrive, not just adapt. Most of us want our children to be free to learn willingly, to discover their true passions, to grow in to confident, independent, compassionate adults. Allowing children the freedom to quit experiences that do not feel right to them is crucial in respecting our children's needs, interests, and basic rights.
But what about experiences that children may indeed enjoy but which they are hesitant to try? I think there is a big difference between initial adjustment and adaptation. For example, on the first day of my kids' recent soccer clinic, my four-year-old had various moments when he would pop over to the sidelines for a hug and a check-in. This was his first "structured" activity and it took some getting used to. He knew at any time during the class he could come over to the sidelines with his father and me, and he knew that he always had the freedom to quit if this wasn't for him. It turned out, his eagerness to play soccer outweighed his desire to quit, and with a few hugs under his belt, he was able to enjoy the clinic without any more sideline check-ins. Still, we were there for him, supporting his right to quit at any time and for any reason.
We grown-ups value our freedom to quit: our ability to leave jobs that are undesirable, to leave marriages that are not happy, to leave situations that cause us pain. We should extend this same freedom to our children, showing our respect for their needs and feelings and basic human rights.
Click here to read more about the Tipping Point Project and efforts to provide greater access to non-coercive learning environments.