Note to my readers: I often talk about the importance of teaching children to make choices that are in their best long-term interest.
Sounds simple, but for most parents, this is a very tough thing to do.
On a recent trip I met a young mother raising three children, ages 3, 10 and 13. Lera's husband left when the 3-year-old came along.
This attractive, very well-spoken, competent young woman told me a story I want to share. It's a terrific example of a parent doing a very tough thing in order for her child to learn a lesson about making choices.
When Lera's daughter was in sixth grade she was not doing her schoolwork and was all about having fun with her friends. Lera told her that, although friends are important, your top job now is to do well in sixth grade in order to prepare for the end-of-the-year national exam.
(In St. Lucia, one of the British Virgin Islands, children take a countrywide exam at the end of sixth grade. If they do well they are placed in the "best" public schools, which are more geared toward college preparation. If they do badly, they go to "lesser" public schools more geared to service and trades employment preparation.)
Her daughter said, "Don't worry, Mom. The test will be easy, and I can do it without studying."
In spite of Lera's reminders, the child kept ignoring the schoolwork. When the exam was completed, she had done very poorly and wasn't going to be able to attend a good public school. She cried all night when she learned this and then begged her mom to send her to a private school so she could catch up.
But Lera said no.
"First I cannot afford that, but more importantly, I want you learn something very valuable. You will take sixth grade over again and this time your studies will come first and activities with friends happen only when you have extra time. I know you can do well on the exam next year."
So another year of sixth grade began and the girl learned the self-discipline of keeping her studies a top priority. When she got her exam results at the end of the year, she called her mom and could hardly talk, she was so excited. She placed second highest in the entire St. Lucia school system. She was on her way to a great school and had learned to make choices in her own best long-term interest.
Lera feels more confident now about her oldest daughter's teenage years because she knows that the child learned her lesson well. She feels confident that if her daughter has all the correct information she will be able to make wise choices. And she often tells her, "I trust you to make wise choices in your best interest, because I know you CAN do it."
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at askevelyn.com.