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When my son was younger, getting him to make any decision was like pulling teeth. Each morning I would ask him what he wanted for snack at school. Without fail, it would take him at least ten minutes to answer. After a while I stopped asking and he got whatever I chose. Now that he is in his tween years, the decisions he has to make are harder than figuring out if he wants an apple or orange for snack. I can’t be with him 24/7 and therefore I need to make sure that when he is faced with hard choices, such as standing up to a bully or walking away, he has the tools to do so.
It is important that we teach children the valuable life skill of making good decisions. It is a skill that will help them be successful in childhood and as they transition into adulthood. The following are some suggestions of how you can prepare your children to become good decision makers.
1. Allow your child to make age appropriate decisions. For example, you can ask them what food they want for breakfast or what activity they want to do. I suggest that for young children you give them two options to choose from. Do you want pancakes or waffles for breakfast? This way they get to make a decision, but don’t get overwhelmed with having too many options to choose from.
2. Ask for their input when making decisions that affect the whole family. Maybe your family has plans to go see a movie or go out to dinner. Include your child by asking them what movie they prefer to go see or where they want to go for dinner. Again, I would suggest giving them options to choose from. Not only does this get them to practice decision making, but they get to see that they are an important part of the family and that their opinions are valued.
3. If it won’t cause harm to them or others, allow your children to make mistakes. As parents, many of us want to protect our children from disappointment and failure. However, people learn a great deal from trial and error. When they use mistakes as opportunities for growth, children learn how to improve their decision making skills. They get to see the outcome of their choices and are better able to handle the same or similar situation in the future.
4. Practice what you preach. Kids are always watching what their parents do. When they see you making good choices, they are more likely to do the same. For example, if you want your child to make healthy food choices, you probably shouldn’t scarf down a gallon of ice cream in front of them. It sends them a conflicting message and they are more apt to think, if it’s OK for mom and dad to do, then why is it not OK for me?
5. Talk it out. When you are making a decision, talk out your process so your child can hear. For instance, let’s say you want to buy a new pair of shoes but don’t have the money right now to purchase them. Here’s an example of how you would talk it out.
I really want to buy those shoes but if I buy them now, then I won’t be able to get the movie tickets. I could buy the shoes but miss out on the movie, or I could go to the movies and get the shoes another time. I guess I have to decide which one is more important to me, the shoes or the movie.
Even though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it, you have a lot of influence over your children. When you model your decision making process for them, they will usually mimic you.
Decision making activities
The following are some activities you can engage your children in to help teach them good decision making skills.
• Watch and discuss the decision making process of characters in a TV show. TV isn’t all bad. Many shows on networks like Nick Jr. and Disney allow children to watch how characters solve a problem and how they deal with the consequences of their actions. For example, PBS Kids had this to say about their popular show, The Berenstain Bears:
Each episode focuses on an ordinary, everyday situation or “challenge” that young children may encounter in the home, with friends, in the community or at school (like jealousy, peer pressure, a new neighbor, a bad grade – or lack of “quality” family time). A path to resolving this common problem is provided as Brother and Sister (and viewers) see the consequences of the choices and decisions that they make.
As each storyline progresses, family members interact to reveal solutions to conflicts and illustrate valuable life lessons.
PBS Kids provides a great list of activities here for kids to practice making decisions.
• After reading a story with your child, discuss how the characters solved a problem they faced. Some questions you can ask your child include:
1. What was the problem in the story?
2. What are some ways the characters could have solved the problem?
3. What might have happened if they chose any of the solutions you mentioned?
4. How did the character choose to solve the problem?
5. What was the outcome?
6. How would you have handled the situation?
These questions are designed to help kids learn how to think through a problem instead of acting impulsively.
• Ask your children to solve hypothetical problems. One of my favorite games I use to play in counseling sessions was the ‘What If’ game. To play the game, first write a series of ‘what if’ questions on slips of paper, fold them, and then place them in a container. Take turns with your child selecting and answering a ‘what if’ question. You can ask questions such as:
What if you found a hundred dollars, what would you do?
What if a stranger tries to talk to you?
What if your sister took your toy without asking?
What if you classmate doesn’t invite you to their?
Playing the ‘what if’ game gets children to stop and think about what they would do if they were faced with a particular situation.
You can also find another great resource here for helping children learn to become good decision makers.
Additionally, here is a wonderful video about decision making and it has great scenarios for kids.
What are some ways you foster good decision making with your children? I would love to hear about them in the comment section below.
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