As the little engine neared the top of the grade, which had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying, “I–think–I–can, I–think–I–can.” It reached the top by drawing on bravery and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself by saying, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”
The Little Engine That Could listened to his inner voice. Where did he get the ability to use his inner voice to accomplish his goals? Maybe from an older, wiser train who gave him some tools. Here are some tools you can give your children to help them learn how to listen to their inner voice:
1. Choices. To a child a small choice represents an opportunity to exert some control over his own life. Do you want to take a bath now or wait until Mommy straightens up? These small choices change as the child develops: “Do you want to take out the garbage or sweep the floor?” The idea is that they learn how to choose. When they are older and the stakes are higher, serious choices about fast driving, substance abuse, etc. have to be made and they will have learned how to make the right choice.
2. Listening. When we listen to children’s feelings we help them to problem-solve and encourage their self-reliance. “Mom, I got invited to Sara’s party but I don’t really want to go.” “Hmm, I wonder why you feel like you don’t want to go?” Guide them through the decision-making process. There will be times, however, when we may have to make a decision for them. “Mom, I’m not wearing my seatbelt.” “I’m sorry, honey, everyone in our family has to wear a seatbelt for safety.” Some decisions are non-negotiable.
3. Expressing themselves. If your child is passionate about something, allow them to feel what they feel. If we deny their feelings, we are telling them that their feelings are not real. This discourages the inner voice. “I don’t want to play soccer, I like to draw.” “Oh, you’d rather draw than play soccer.”
4. Mistakes are not the end of the world. “Mom, I just spilled juice all over the kitchen floor.” ”I’ll show you where the rags are and help you clean it up.” This is again based on age; a three-year-old can help you clean up her spill, an eight-year-old can probably clean it up herself.
5. Be a role model. The old adage “do as I say not as I do” is counter-intuitive. Children are very cognizant of actions we take in our everyday lives. We need to develop a habit of listening to our own inner voices to make good decisions.
Not only is it rewarding for us to see our children make their own decisions, but it is also empowering for them to trust their own ability to solve problems. In this way, they won’t feel overwhelmed when they face life’s challenges.