When it comes to allowing your children to make decisions, it’s tempting to jump in and show them the way. Letting your children make minor decisions though, teaches them critical thinking skills and confidence in themselves to do the right thing when you’re not around.
Often, children become overwhelmed when too many choices are available, so it’s important to narrow decisions down to options that are manageable at their individual level of thinking.
Here are 4 key ways to keep in mind when helping your child make good choices:
1. Teach your child to weigh pros and cons
A useful exercise in all decision making is to weigh the pros and cons of each choice and deciding which decision works best. Grab a pen and paper and draw two columns with the decision written at the top of the page. On the left side of the page write “Pros” and on the right side of the page write “Cons”.
In no particular order, start listing the good things and the bad things about the decision writing the upside with “Pros” and the downside with “Cons”. Teach your child that there is usually good and bad in every difficult choice, and when the bad outweighs the good, the decision is probably a bad one.
Think of a second or third option to a decision where “Cons” outweigh “Pros” and continue this exercise as many times as it takes until a positive decision is reached.
2. Play the game of “what if”
To put things in perspective sometimes, it’s important to think of best and worst case scenarios. A lot of times initially, a decision sounds like the best idea in the world, because the decision maker has failed to think ahead. The “what if” game brings to mind realistic directions a potential decision could go. Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D., clinical director of the Westchester Group Works, in Harrison, New York, says, “When kids ask questions or make compare-and-contrast evaluations, they’re actually slowing down their thought process, so they are better able to think things through.” To help your child get used to this way of thinking, offer scenarios that require critical thinking and problem solving skills; getting invited to two separate fun events for example, or asking her what she would buy if she won money in a contest.
3. Provide options every day
In order for children to learn good decision making skills, opportunities for decisions should arise early and often. From deciding what to eat for breakfast or wear to school, to which classes to take or what job to pursue, decision making happens every day. When presented with too many options, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, so limit the options to manageable choices rather than providing a plethora of options to choose from.
A behavioral tactic taught in parenting class is to give your child a choice in cases of disobedience. If a child refuses to go to bed on time, for example, allow the child to choose between going to bed, and performing a chore. Often times, the child will choose to obey rather than facing their other option as a consequence of their misbehavior.
Positive choices should be rewarded unless the positive choice is required of the child. Rewarding bad behavior by praising a child for doing the right thing can often be turned around into a manipulative tactic so praise for a good choice should be made when the child makes the choice on her own.
4. Allow bad decisions to be made
Part of learning how to succeed is learning how to fail successfully. Poor decisions are useful learning tools and will be stored in memory for the next time a similar decision arises. When you see your child getting ready to make a poor decision, determine that the decision is not a life-threatening one and allow your child to make the mistake.
For instance, your third grader wants to take his entire allowance to school on a day when a school fund raiser is being held. If your child insists that this is the decision he has made, after explaining the possible consequences, go ahead and allow him to do it.
In this way, when something else exciting comes up that he wants to afford, he will remember that he made the choice in the prior week to spend all of his allowance in one day, and will learn to be frugal with his money and think ahead to the possibilities.
The overall goal to keep in mind here, is to raise a child with excellent decision making skills. Minor choices like how to spend their allowance early in life, will prepare them for major decision making in the future.
Outweighing the pros and cons early on, will later remind them to solidly think before acting. Children learn by practicing and trying, and they deserve the opportunity for both.
Instant gratification and always getting what they want will hinder their own ability to concentrate and focus on the future. Think of some creative ways to let your child decide and allow the process to be fun for you both.