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Together we will cry and face fear and grief.
I will want to take away your pain, but instead,
I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it.
(The wholehearted parenting manifesto, Brene Brown)
In the beginning, while your child is too little, you make all decisions for her, but you are aware that you can’t do it for her forever. As the years go by, it becomes increasingly certain that your little one should find the best way how to make good choices about her life by herself.
It depends on you whether the choices your child makes will be good for her and people around her or if she will have the problem of making bad decisions for the rest of her life. Remember, no child in the world knows how to make good choices in life by birth. They can only do the right thing if their parents teach them decision-making skills.
Basic Teaching Decision-Making Skills
THE STEP 1 – Make an understandable connection between choice and possible consequences
The first thing you need to do is to begin to observe the behavior of your child ‘from the side’. Don’t take her disobedience personally. Every child will try to go unpunished for her actions, and she often succeeds because the parents are inconsistent in responding to child’s misbehavior. The key is in persistence. You need to find a way to react in the same way each time your child does the same thing you don’t approve. When your little one knows exactly what will be the consequence of her action, she will think twice before doing what she knows is punishable.
Remember, if you want to achieve a goal, the consequence of an inadequate child’s behavior has to be natural, reasonable, and related to her action. You can try with a little trick. Buy a cork board and every time you notice some unacceptable behavior, attach a note to the board with the question – Who did it? You (put the child’s name here)? What is the penalty for (doing something inappropriate)…? If your kid is too young and still doesn’t know to read, you can draw a picture for her.
On the long run, if your child does something forbidden which could lead to a problem, don’t shout. Just ask the right questions. For example – You know you can’t drag the cat for a tail. What will happen if she scratches you? What will happen if the cat jumps on you and you fall? What will happen if you break up your mom’s vase with the flowers and it falls to the floor?
Wait for the child’s answer to any question asked. It will make her think about every possible scenario. It’s always an elegant way to persuade your child to give up on bad behavior. You can do all of that without having to shout, argue, and be annoyed or under stress.
1 – An example of a cause-effect list
|Leaving stuff in an inadequate place||Pick up that stuff + one extra task|
|Disrespect, bad words, back talk||One minute of silence per year of child’s age|
|Fighting over shared stuff||Removal of the stuff for a day|
|Disrespecting the agreed return-time||Banned one evening out for every 5 minutes late|
|Damaging things through negligence||Repair or replace the stuff and clean up the mess right away|
Make and add a cause-effect list of possible inadequate behaviors and consequences for every one of them. Take care that your list:
- Need to be used every time your child behaves inadequately. Being consistent is the key to success.
- Isn’t personal (it is ‘third party’ and shows the consequences of child’s action and a choice).
- Shouldn’t be a ‘wall of shame’. You don’t need to put a note on the board for every single mistake. Thus, you will deprive of sense the purpose of its existence.
- Isn’t unchangeable. Just avoid changing the rules while a consequence of some action is current.
Consistent implementation of the list will save both you and your child from the additional discussion and polemic.
THE STEP 2 – Determinate child decision-making tools (thoughts and feelings)
Teaching decision making implies the inclusion of your child’s thoughts and feelings. You should teach your little one to trust and listen to her thoughts and feelings from early childhood. The best way to achieve that important goal is empathy. Empathy with your child means:
- That you are capable of seeing the world in the way your child sees it. To do that, you need to make a distance from your own beliefs and convictions, and try to understand the child’s point of view.
- Avoiding being judgmental. You can’t change child’s thoughts and feelings just because you don’t approve them.
- That you sincerely make an effort to understand your child and her thoughts and feelings. If your child is upset, your first question should be “What is..?’ not ‘Why?’
- That you are capable of putting your opinion on hold and trying to discover what your child thinks and feels at that particular moment.
Always keep in mind one thing – Very often the problems that your child faces and why may suffer for days, are wholly unworthy of frustration. You know that, but you should be aware that your child’s suffering is real. Years will pass before your sweet kid realizes nonsense of being upset about irrelevant things.
THE STEP 3 – How to teach decision-making process and help your child understand it
Making decisions is crucial for kids. I will give you a few tips to make it easier for your child to make an appropriate choice.
Help your little one to identify the right decision asking four questions:
- Why do I need this?
- What are my best options?
- What are the consequences?
- Which consequence of my action is best?
The crucial thing is to teach your child to avoid to be too impulsive and to estimate both short-term and long-term effects of her action. She has to learn to reassess her decisions and possible consequences.
While your child is very young, she will consider first two questions as one. Teach her to make a good choice between two options (to buy a red or green ball for example). She will spend some time thinking about opportunities, and that is the point. She will make a choice and live with it no matter if she has a second thought later.
Older children will have to make more significant decisions, and they will use the entire four-stage process. The best example is a process of buying a bike. For a school-grade kid, it isn’t only a matter of color. She will think about the size of a bike, a brand, an available amount of money, and so on.
You can expect that she won’t decide at once. If she knows that it is her only opportunity to buy a bike for the next couple of years, it is likely that she will take her time. If it is a case, you can be sure that you have done a great job!
THE STEP 4 – Let your child experience the importance of making good choices (with consequences and possible failures)
You know that your child will face some tough and scary decisions sooner or later, whether you like it or not. Don’t attempt to save your little one from the consequences of her choices, regardless of whether you can clearly see in advance that she will experience failure. The decision should be hers. It is the only way for your child to learn how the system of making choices works.
Possible failure will help her to develop the ability to adapt and to think better about her decisions in the future. You can be sure that this is a way your child reduce the chances of failure when she makes the decision the next time. She will merely think better and assess the risk and possible consequences of her choices more wisely.
Excellent Strategies and Decision-Making Activities for Kids
Letting your child to make mistakes doesn’t mean that you should leave your child without help in decision making. You, as a parent, need to be supportive. You are the one who should always advise your child when required. And of course, you are the one who will console your child if she fails to accomplish her purpose. Try to help your kid gain experience and to learn to make good choices in the future.
I will give you here a few excellent strategies and decision-making activities for kids.
1 – Find adequate ‘safe-zones’ for your child
Depending on your child’s age, you should find adequate ‘safe-zones’ for your child where she can make her own decision, estimate potential risk and consequences, and possible failure. I will give you some examples of suitable decision-making activities for kids of different ages, but there is a bunch of possibilities. Which of them you want to use, will depend on you.
Let your child make up her mind which clothes she wants to wear that particular day. To avoid unpleasant discussions, you should limit her choice depending on current weather conditions.
At one moment, you should let your child pick out what to wear without limitations. After multiple advice and discussion, it is time for your child to assess the situation and make the appropriate decision.
If she decides to go to school in the sandals in the middle of winter while snow falls or to go out without an umbrella while it rains, let her be. Generally, nothing terrible will happen to her except that she will be cold or wet on that day. Anyway, you can be sure that she will never repeat such a mistake.
Middle-grade schoolers and high-grade schoolers
Well, your child is old enough, and it is the time to start making much more important life decisions including managing her time, selecting appropriate projects or class schedules, picking the desirable college, and so on.
That means that your child will pick out the clothes on her own no matter what you think about it. Yes, as a parent you have the power to set up ‘the veto’ on some of her decisions regarding dressing up, but it wouldn’t be wise using that parental power too often.
I believe that you don’t want your child starts lying to you and changing her clothes somewhere on the way to school for example. It happens, you know. The point is not to forbid something but to remind her of consequences of her actions (The step 1).
2 – Horrible ‘What-if’ questions can be a helpful parental ‘weapon’
‘What if she falls?’
‘What if she has an allergy to shellfish?’
‘What if this boyfriend is the wrong choice for her?’
When it is about your kid, you always have first thought about ‘what ifs’ possibilities like every other parent. I know that you can’t help yourself. Although, when you think a little better, maybe asking these questions makes you a good parent after all.
Well, have you ever thought that ‘What-if’ could be a great children decision-making tool? You can always put a ‘What if’ question in front of your child and ask her to tell you what would she do in such a situation. Let’s see.
- What if another child takes your favorite toy?
- What if another child knocks you?
- What if you disagree with your friend?
- What if your friend is sad?
- What if your friend asks you to help him tell a lie?
- What if an adult asks you to get into his car?
Middle-grade schoolers and high-grade schoolers
- What if your friend offers you something inappropriate (cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, sex)?
- What if your boyfriend (girlfriend) cheats on you?
There is nothing wrong with turning your parental care into a useful and practical tool, right?
Brief Guidelines for You as a Parent
For the end, I will give you these brief guidelines and summarize some tips which have helped me in raising my children. I hope they will help both you and your child on the way to making right life decisions. Just choose that advice which fit both you and your child the best.
1 – Talk about your child’s decisions. Everyday decision-making will help your kid to evaluate various options.
2 – Allow your child to practice making decisions. It will give her an opportunity to build her decision-making skills and sense of responsibility.
3 – Ask questions. Open-ended questions will prompt your child to think about possibilities, particular options, and possible consequences.
4 – Encourage your kid to set up goals she can achieve. It will give her a chance to think ahead and plan her actions.
5 – Let your child makes mistakes. Believe me; learning from her own mistakes is a necessary lecture for a child and a guideline for making good decisions in the future.
6 – Encourage your child’s interests. No matter what your child is interested in (music, cooking, sport, art), you should support her and explain to her that appropriate decision-making is the key to success.
7 – Teach your child the proper way to handle money. It will help her to become a responsible and wise adult.
8 – Praise and reward your child when she makes a good choice. You can’t protect her from the ‘ugly’ world, but you can make her life more relaxed by pointing her in the right direction. On that way, praises and rewards are more efficient choices than criticism and punishments.
9 – Be an example. Your child will learn to make right decisions only if she has a good role model. Be that role-model for your child and don’t worry. When she gets a good example and learns the most important lessons, she will be prepared for the life that waits for her.
You can expect your child starts with making bad decisions because she doesn’t think enough, she is bored or under peer pressure. Sometimes the reasons for the child’s misbehave are trivial like ‘it seemed fun to me at that moment’, the absence of considering the consequences, or simply ‘payback’ to parents. It is nothing alarming if your child learns the lesson and doesn’t repeat making wrong decisions too often.
Your goal should be that your kid understands that making a wrong decision is not worth consequences. Kids make mistakes. The point is that your little one finds a way to learn to make good choices over the years. It won’t be easy, and she will need to make a lot of mistakes until she masters decision-making skills. For a start, teach your child to think before act. It is the best way to help her to skip a lot of unnecessary bad life decisions and make her life much more comfortable.