Children can be ripe forever

Upbringing: From when can children have a say in decisions

"As long as you put your feet under my table, I'll tell you where to go!" Such authoritarian slogans are considered outdated, modern parents no longer see themselves as all-powerful "determiners" of their children. But from what age and on what topics are children allowed You can find clues here.

Moral and political maturity as well as the ability to take responsibility for determining one's own life are only guaranteed by law to young people in Germany at the age of 18. Nevertheless, when young people reach the age of majority, they do not become responsible citizens overnight.

Identity formation and the "Maturity "for participation

When children can make conscious and reflective decisions depends on their age and their cognitive development. Basically, the following rule of thumb applies: the older the child, the more far-reaching and complex decisions it can make.

Deciding has to be learned

Co-determination must therefore be age-appropriate and must be practiced. This works best with the guidance of the parents, who can guide and simplify certain decisions through pre-selection. Because if you give too many choices to children not yet of school age, they quickly feel overwhelmed when weighing up their pros and cons. It is better to learn how to "have a say" in small steps by initially only offering two options, which, however, must not be mutually exclusive.

For example, parents could diplomatically approach the book selection when reading aloud: "Would you like the story of the robber Hotzenplotz first and then the Pixie book or vice versa?" As a result of this question, the children know that they cannot lose anything and are happy about the "freedom" of their choices.

What kind of co-determination can children at what age be expected? Here are some guidelines:

  • Children up to four years shouldn't have to make any exclusive decisions yet. However, parents can preselect what they want to eat or what to wear.
  • Children up to six years can make their decisions with less help. You can cope with even minor wrong decisions with possible unpleasant consequences. Suitable topics for a say at this age are birthday wishes, the decision about where to stay ("Would you rather go shopping with mom or stay in the garden with dad?") Or leisure activities (playground or swimming pool).
  • Children up to ten years are already able to think into the future and make decisions, the consequences of which are not immediately noticeable. Children of this age can therefore have a say in how they want to redesign their children's room and have a say in where or how the family vacation should be spent.
  • For children over ten years the decision-making powers are getting bigger and bigger. You can look at more complex relationships, think abstractly and logically, consider consequences in advance and weigh arguments against each other in order to make a decision. From the age of twelve, children also have a legal say. This is important, for example, if the parents are separated or divorced. Then the child can have a say in the choice of the place of residence or which parent it wants to live with.
  • AtAdolescents there are often conflicts over going out, meeting friends, watching TV and using the internet. They should be able to explain why they want something with factual arguments and understand that they have rights and obligations. On this basis, they can negotiate compromises with their parents and agree on binding rules. Parents should be open to suggestions and arguments from young people: "They often have good ideas that adults do not always come up with," says the chairman of the Federal Conference for Educational Advice, Ulrich Gerth.

Having a say also means potential for conflict

Children's decisions are not always approved by parents, even if they have stood aside in an advisory capacity. Especially with children who are not yet of school age, it is difficult to question decisions. All too often this ends in a defiant fit of anger and frustration, as the children get the feeling that their right to have a say is being undone afterwards.

At this age, there is potential for conflict especially when it comes to sleeping, eating or clothing. A typical case: a four-year-old has dressed himself alone and would like to take his summer jacket with him to kindergarten in winter. But the mother absolutely wants to prevent this.

The well-known Danish pedagogue Jesper Juul advises in his book "The Competent Child" in such situations to respect the child's decision and offer alternatives, for example: "Aha, so that's what you put on, I think that's a little bit less You can stay like this, but you should still take your anorak with you if you are cold. "

For Juul, such compromise solutions are important so that children learn to become independent. Parents should not understand this as a curtailment of their authority: "Children want to determine themselves and you think that it has to do with power. But that's not the point for the children. In reality, they mean: 'I would like to be responsible for it myself.' Conflict resolution therefore only works through accompaniment and not through a power struggle. "

Make decisions in the family council

A classic instance of cultivating a say in the family is a family council that meets regularly. It is the ideal playground, especially for school-age children, to learn how to participate. Mutual respect is the basic requirement. All family members are equal. Everyone can speak to what moves them, and everyone else just listens. An agenda can give the family council a structure. In the end, common solutions should be found that everyone is comfortable with.

Such gatherings are especially important for the children: They learn important communication rules and get the feeling that they are taken seriously and accepted as a full family member. And those who feel that they are being taken seriously also take agreements that are important to their parents seriously.

Some topics are not negotiable

Not all topics are suitable for a family council, however. Partnership problems, for example, should never be discussed with the children. On the other hand, all areas of everyday family life are suitable, from "A" for tidying up to "M" for taking out garbage to "Z" for going to bed.

Having a say, however, does not always mean having a say. Fabienne Becker-Stoll, head of the State Institute for Early Childhood Education (IFP) Bavaria, names topics to which parents can say: "During the week, getting up and sleeping are non-negotiable."

It is the same with brushing your teeth, for example. According to Dana Mundet from the online counseling of the Federal Conference for Educational Advice, it is helpful if the parents clearly define for themselves in which areas clear rules should apply and where the child can have more leeway - for example when choosing clothes or the program on Weekend.

Codetermination also includes the understanding that one cannot only claim rights. The whole thing works like an exchange deal: the more rights you get, the more obligations you have to take on, explains Becker-Stoll.

Responsibility and Democratic Action

With independent decision-making, children learn to take responsibility and understand that this always entails a consequence that one has to adhere to. The possibility of participation promotes democratic thinking and acting in children and strengthens family harmony. Jesper Juul says: "Personal responsibility creates a healthy basis for our social behavior. In families in which the parents are willing to recognize this, you will find far fewer conflicts, more closeness and stronger children."

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