Think for just a moment. What gets your children into trouble? What do they do that frustrates you? And, if you listed skills you want children to master, what would you include?
Is decision making relevant to all these questions? It is in many families. I hear from parents about foolish decisions and decisions that weren’t thought through. I hear about self-centered decisions and plain-old bad decisions.
You can make a difference by teaching your children how to make decisions. As children tell me often, don’t tell them to make decisions and don’t yell when they make bad ones, but teach them instead.
As I explained in last Monday’s blog, efficiently and effectively making wise decisions is related to two of children’s core needs. Therefore, teaching children to do this is a wise investment of your time.
When children know how to make decisions well, they’ll have greater competence and greater security. This will allow them to be successful when needing to be independent. They’ll know what questions to ask, how to weigh options, how to move forward, and more.
Also, as I explain in Screens and Teens, making choices can overwhelm young adults, teens, and children. Any instruction you provide in decision making will help children, for this reason, too.
Allow me to suggest these ideas.
Help children decide if it’s a moral decision or a wisdom decision.
- Moral decisions are a matter of right versus wrong.
- Wisdom decisions require children to choose between good, better, and best.
Once children understand these two categories, they’ll be able to categorize many things permanently. Talking about how you decide will be a key.
Decide if wisdom decisions are simple, every day, or major decisions.
- Simple decisions are preferences (e.g., toast or bagel, Pepsi or Coke, red or blue shirt). Deciding shouldn’t take much time or effort.
- Everyday decisions become habits. They’re based on character (e.g., exercise, be on time, tell the truth). These preferences or habits shouldn’t require much thinking. Make a choice and follow through.
- Major decisions should involve thinking, feelings, intuition, and trustworthy people when deciding what is good, better, or best.
When making major decisions, children will learn a lot by evaluating each option.
- Line up with my values – Does my choice support my values?
- Accurate – Did I use accurate information correctly?
- Efficient – Can this decision/solution be easily implemented?
- Complete – Does the decision/solution solve the whole problem? If it doesn’t, is that okay?
- Realistic – Can I implement the decision/solution with my available resources, time, and skills? Will I need others to help me? Will they be willing?
- Feelings – How do I feel about the option? (When helping someone, it’s beneficial to ask both “How do you feel about your choice?” and “What do you think about your choice?”)
- Harmful for anyone or inconsiderate to anyone – Are there consequences for myself or others that make this option inappropriate?
After the evaluation, there may be more than one decision that seems appropriate. Now categorizing each option like this can help.
- Possible as is – What’s the risk level? Will it help me reach my goal?
- Possible with a change – Are the changes realistic? What’s worth doing? Will it help me reach my goal?
- Impossible – Is it impossible now, but could it be possible some day? Should I revisit this idea in the future?
Choose one of your options and implement it. Don’t get stuck and do nothing! Choose and implement something that’s right, in the right way, at the right time, with the right motives, etc.
Seek feedback and observe for feedback in yourself, others, and the situation immediately and over time. Are you at peace or stressed? Content or dissatisfied?
Accept and learn from the consequences of your decision. Decide what you might do differently next time. (Occasionally adults can intervene to save children from consequences that would really be damaging. But most often, children should experience the consequences of their decisions. This is how they learn.)
What do you think? Would walking your kids through this be valuable? I’m certainly not suggesting you sit your children down at a table and teach this in one sitting like you might a school lesson. Look for opportunities to model this process when making decisions that involve them. You could talk together about what to do on a Saturday morning, what to spend some money on, and the like. In fact, during November and December, you and your children will need to make many important decisions. I hope my ideas are helpful.