Everything we do in life is based on decisions. Even simple things like what to wear or what to eat for breakfast are choices that we make on a daily basis. We are also faced with much bigger choices occasionally, such as where to live, what job to take, or who to marry. Decisions shape our lives. Making the wrong choices can have a serious impact. Because decisions are so important, it’s crucial to teach children how to make decisions. Children should be empowered to make their own decisions and learn a good decision from a bad one.
Children can be empowered to make their own decisions from a young age. Even during playtime with a baby or toddler, you can offer your child choices. Do you want this toy or that toy? Although it may be easy for the child to choose, even simple choices like this can help strengthen a child’s decision-making skills as they grow.
Once they are able, you can begin to offer your child more decision-making opportunities on a daily basis. Letting them decide what they want to wear in the morning might not matter to you, but it makes a huge difference to a child. They get to feel like they have control over something important to them. Choosing to wear the Spiderman shirt instead of the Superman shirt is something that they will think about throughout the day and be proud of.
You can also give children choices on what to eat. Keep your questions limited in terms of their options. Asking “What do you want to eat?” means you could get a variety of responses. If your child says “Ice cream,” you’re inevitably going to have to reject their choice because they can’t eat ice cream for breakfast. Instead, you can offer them two options, waffles or cereal. This way the child has some control over their food, but in a limited way. They might even be more motivated to eat all their food since they got to pick what they wanted.
One way to use choices is instead of demands. Instead of demanding a child pick up their toys, you can offer them a choice. “You can pick up your toys now and we can go to the park OR we won’t get to go to the park today.” The child then gets to “choose” whether or not to pick up their toys. Should they decide not to pick up their toys, they have to live with the consequences of that decision. This can also be helpful in encouraging positive choices, like choosing to share. Through showing that one action (sharing) has a positive response attached to it (a sticker, for example) and not sharing doesn’t have the reward, you can show a child positive behavior, rather than demanding it.
Through offering your child limited choices that affect their daily lives, like what clothes to wear or what to eat, you can give them a sense of control over certain aspects of their life. This also helps them to strengthen their decision-making skills. By using choices instead of demands, you allow your child to see what the correct choice is, instead of demanding they act in a certain way. If they decide to share, they get to take ownership over that choice.
When a child is older, to empower them to make good decisions you need to teach them how First, they need to look for information. In the technology age we live in, children have access to tablets and phones from a young age. You can help your child research information on appropriate websites about the decision they need to make. If they are choosing whether to play soccer or baseball, you can let them watch videos about kids who play each sport. They can read blogs written by child athletes about their experiences. Your child should understand that information is all around them. They can even talk to their classmates or adults about their experiences. The first step to good decision-making is getting all the facts.
Children also need to be taught the importance of reflection. Taking the time to think about your choice instead of rushing into a decision is crucial. The idea of “sleeping on it” is an important concept to teach your child. They should take time to gather information and then process that information. When making a difficult decision, you can encourage your child to write down what they think the right choice is and why. After a few days, they can reread what they wrote and see if they still feel the same or if they’ve changed their mind. You can always remind them that most decisions can be changed. If they realize they made the wrong choice, most times they can change their mind.
It is very hard even for adults to make decisions dealing with interpersonal relationships. When a child is making a decision about how to handle a problem with a friend or sibling, it’s important to remind them to look at the situation from all perspectives. You should encourage them to try to think about why the other person said or acted in a certain way and what they could be feeling. This teaches empathy and helps a child see that other people may look at a situation differently than they do. Once they look at the problem from a different point of view, it may be easier for them to make the right decision.
Perhaps the most difficult part of letting your child make their own choices is letting them deal with the consequences. As a parent, you want to protect your child from everything. However, protecting them from the consequences of their decisions prevents them from learning good decisions from bad ones. If they never have to experience the consequences, they will never learn from their mistakes. It is important that you let your child experience both the ups and the downs of their decision-making so they can learn to make better decisions in the future. Empowering children to make their own choices is an important and difficult part of raising a child. However, by starting young and giving them the tools to make good decisions, you can teach them how to make positive choices. And, as always, one of the most important things is to be a good role model. By showing your child how you make good choices, you can help empower them to make their own.