“The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss

This month I have opened a debate on how to raise responsible children. I emphasized the role of well-chosen chores in shaping a child’s character and  promoted verbal accountability. Today I’d like to add two more elements to the mix. Freedom to choose, for one, and secondly, choices or opportunities. I think that both are equally crucial as we try to raise a responsible individual.

Responsible Choices = Choices + Freedom to Make Choices

In other words, only by giving children some level of independence and freedom to make their own decisions, as well as exposing them to various options, we can teach them making responsible decisions and accountability for their actions.

Funny thing about freedom, though. Even if we are all  “born to be free”, dealing with freedom doesn’t come to us naturally. We have to learn how to live without boundaries or else we can easily waste or abuse freedom.  We start the learning process already as a child. Just imagine that  you give your preschooler a hundred dollars. They can spend the money on anything they want. Most likely, they  will be as excited as confused. They might even give you the money back. But give them one dollar and ask them to choose between a candy and a little toy, and they will decide easily. It might be a decision based on the spur of the moment and they might regret it later, but it will surely serve as a lesson for the future. (Unless a soft-hearted parent will decide to give the child both, the toy and candy… because he or she is “just a little child”.)

Children should not be spared from making choices and bearing responsibilities for their decisions. Step by step, though. At first it should be about controlled freedom. Let’s say you have to get your child dressed for school.  You can choose clothes for your child yourself,  ask them what clothes they would like to wear, or give them two options: this or that? In the first case, you are likely to face a rebellion. An open question in the second case,  might lead to them choosing a Halloween costume. And you don’t want that!. In the third case, you might actually eat the cake and still have it. Your child will appreciate that you’ve  asked for their input, and you are  confident that either choice is safe.

Once we see that our children can handle simple choices, we can add more options and bigger dilemmas. Until we can proudly watch how they confidently and responsibly choose their college majors, hobbies, or jobs. 

Out of many books that touch upon making independent choices, I selected “The Cat in the Hat”.  Children love this wise, hilarious  and versatile classic for various reasons. But let’s read it to them again as we try to teach them accountability.    Should the Cat stay or should he go? What can happen if he stays and what if he goes? Sally and her brother were free to listen to their mother, or to give in to the Cat’s temptations. What would your child do?

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