As a parent, you make many important decisions for your child. It only makes sense during the early part of their life when they’re simply incapable of making the right (and safe!) decisions for themselves. But it can’t always be this way.
Children need to learn how to make good decisions on their own. Being able to do so allows them to mature into responsible adults, and to navigate this big, busy world we live in.
So, if it’s time to hand over the decision-making reigns to your child, here’s how to teach them to make good ones.
Let your kids make mistakes
Wait a minute! Isn’t this article supposed to be about helping children make good decisions? Well, yes it is. But one of the ways you can do that is to actually let your child make mistakes, too.
You’ve probably told your child so many times to not do one thing or another. And you probably explained lots of logical reasons why you’re right.
But it isn’t until they find out for themselves and experience some level of discomfort that they realize why your decision is a good one.
For better or for worse, this is how we often learn life’s many lessons. After all, an experience can be the best teacher.
Let children make their own decisions
As a parent, you might want to always decide what your child does or doesn’t do. But it’s better to give your child the freedom to make his or her own decisions. Then, assist your child in carrying out their decision.
In this way, the child can learn first hand whether or not this decision is a good one. Obviously, if your child’s decision places him in danger, you can and must interfere and make a good decision for him or her.
The 3-question approach to good decision making
Children lack experience and wisdom. So, it’s no wonder that they’re prone to bad decisions, and therefore, messy consequences.
However, there is a simple, 3-question approach you can use with your kid to help them figure out if the decision they want to make is actually a good one.
The first question to ask is, “Why do you want to do this?” This helps your child discern their motivation. Identifying different and conflicting motives can help your child understand why they want to do something and if it’s still a good idea.
The next question to ask your child is, “What are your options?” You can probably relate to feeling trapped and coerced into making a certain decision – even if you know it’s not right for you. It’s not hard to imagine that children experience a similar struggle, especially when peer pressure is involved.
That’s why asking your child to identify their options may help them feel less pressure to choose just one. They may also feel more freedom to choose a decision that they feel comfortable with.
The third and final question to ask your child is, “Is this decision in my best interests?” Or, in other words, “Is this decision good for me?” Children often act impulsively and without thinking, but stopping to think about the short- and long-term consequences can help your child make a good decision.
The more you ask your child these three questions, it will become a habit for him or her, and they can carry this 3-step checking process with them – even into adulthood, where it continues to be useful.
Involve children in your decision-making
Maybe you want to look like you have everything under control and always know exactly what to do. But as we all know, this isn’t always the case. As parents, we have to make decisions all the time, and sometimes, we don’t know which one to make.
It can happen at the grocery store while cooking dinner while shopping for clothing, or even doing housework. The truth is, we’re faced with decisions every single day.
So, why not include your child in your decision making? Your child can learn by example and also start to observe the thought processes involved in coming to the right decision.
Deal with bad decisions with compassion
We all make mistakes. You, me and your child. And the best thing to do when these mistakes occur is to treat them appropriately. You might be tempted to speak belittling, with a “See, I told you so” remark. Or, you might think it’s appropriate to punish or humiliate your child for their poor decision.
As parents, we often act in these ways because this is how we speak to ourselves when we make a bad decision.
On top of that, we load on guilt, regret, and shame. But none of these experiences support us in making good decisions in the future. In fact, they only make it more difficult to move forward.
So, when your child makes a mistake, treat them with compassion. Acknowledge that their decision was a bad one, but always focus on the fact that their decision and action were bad, not the child.
If we fail to do this as parents, the child will identify with their actions so strongly that when they make a mistake, they will also see themselves as failures and good-for-nothings.
This is no way to build healthy self-esteem. Instead, assure your child that even if they made a bad decision, they are fully capable of making a good decision the next time.
Support your child’s creativity
When faced with a problem or choice, we have to make a decision, but it can be difficult to think of a good one. One way to help your child develop divergent thinking skills is to build their creativity.
This helps your child think out of the box and see a wide variety of possibilities.
Give children appropriate feedback
Bad decisions tend to get more attention than good ones. But can you start to place more focus on your kid’s good decisions? This reminds them of their own capabilities and encourages them to repeat these good decisions.
What’s more, positive feedback builds confidence and self-esteem, both of which are necessary to make good decisions.