Our kids are faced with a ton of choices every day. Some of them are pretty easy, like what to wear to school or their favorite flavor, while some may be harder – like who to play with, choosing after school activities or who they’ll invite to a birthday party. Others may be really hard, like should they just stand and watch someone being bullied? Should they partake in something that could lead to their friends getting into trouble? We can’t hold their hand every step of their way, but we can help our kids make good choices, a building brick to their character that will have a wealth of long-term benefits. Here are some guidelines on how to encourage sound decision-making in younger children.
1. Give him or her enough room to make decisions:
Some decisions (such as which book to read at bedtime, or whether they want carrots or sweet potatoes with dinner) are not big choices for you, but allowing them the choice will make them feel more involved and offer more autonomy. It’s also important to let them make good choices even if you don’t agree with them (as long as the consequences don’t affect their health or safety).
2. Highlight choices (and their effects) in stories:
Emphasize books that center on characters that have to make good choices. This also works well with movies. Pause when the characters get to the problem. Ask your child what he or she thinks the characters should do, and what will happen. In movies, hit the pause button as well. Ask your children what they think will happen when the characters disobey, if they enter the cave or take that forbidden treasure, for example. Use questions such as: “How would you solve this problem?” or, “What is the problem again?” and “What should they do now?”
3. Teaching about consequences:
Taking another person’s perspective enhances the quality of a child’s decision-making because in order for children to make the best decision they must be able to understand how it will affect others. Learning that there are consequences for actions is a good way to promote empathy and responsible decision-making.
4. Explain that different rules apply in different settings:
For example, inside or quiet voices need to be used in places like libraries and movie theaters, but cheering or loud yelling can be appropriate when watching sports or playing them. This allows your child to understand the differences in situations and inspire them to make good choices. This is just a micro-example, but it explains a lot about societal convention, etiquette and more. (Remember, being polite and well-mannered are choices he or she needs to make constantly).
5. Talk about a decision you are making:
Use your own decision-making process and experiences to outline the thought process behind your choices. Talk through your plans for your daily route, making dinner or housekeeping. Alternatively, you may make a choice that is not based on particular reasoning, like choosing one song over another. Letting your child see that some decisions can’t be explained (other than by likes and dislikes) will be a comfort at this young age, when he or she is likely unable to give a reason behind most of her decisions.
6. Show your child your unconditional love and support:
Adults and children make bad choices at times. However, supporting children through hard decisions and poor choices shows you love them unconditionally. Of course, you want to point out that some choices are not acceptable, but if they make the same mistake again, make sure to reinforce your love and support.
What works for your family?
How do you inspire your kids to make good choices? What techniques help them face decisions with great character and determination to excel? Let me know your thoughts feedback below.