Here's how you can raise your kids to be good decision-makers
Here are 9 tips to make your kids adept at making good decisions throughout their lives
Good decision-making skills are one of the best life-tools you can give your child. No matter how educated or intelligent a person is, being able to make the right decisions determines pretty much everything else in their life. Making decisions begin very early in age. Here's how you can guide your kids to be smart decision-makers.
1. Give them 'permission' to make mistakes
This doesn't mean you kick the door wide open and let them get out to do whatever they want. How you react to their mistakes nonverbally and verbally determines their comfort level around exercising their right to make decisions. If you ask them what they want for lunch, but disapprove them when they choose to stay home instead of joining their friends, you send them mixed signals. As long as they are not causing harm to themselves or others, go easy on your need for perfection. Allow them to make mistakes and use them as opportunities to talk about the right to choice and consequences.
2. Encourage age-appropriate decisions
Asking your child to pick a toy in the play store might be fun for an eight-year-old, but overwhelming for a six-year-old. For younger kids, limit their decision to a few choices. Asking a four-year-old what she wants for snacks can be unnerving. Toddlers are just about getting comfortable with interpreting verbal language and social cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and emotions. When you give them two choices and ask them to pick, there is more structure within their cognitive world. Instead of asking an open-ended question, give them choices. "Would you like to have an apple or orange today?"
3. Don't decide for them
As important as it is to give them age-appropriate decisions, it's equally critical to reiterate their right to decide their choices as they grow up. Many children, statistically girl children, struggle all the way through their middle age with indecisiveness because they believe they don't have the right to decide for themselves what's good for them. Marriage counselors and therapists working with unhappy individuals find that the inability to make and stick to decisions is the primary reason for their resentment and depression.
Affirm their right whenever they stand up for themselves or push them gently when they are uncertain. "When Aunt Haley asked where the family should go for summer, you barely said anything. Do you want to speak to Aunt Haley about your favorite place? This is also a great way to make them immune to bullies at school, who often use their overwhelming presence and loudness to get their way.
4. Encourage them to question their own choices
Around the age of 6 or 7, children begin to develop skills to rationalize their thoughts. Although they may not be able to tell you why, they are likely to know why. Experts specializing in child psychology explain that children act on impulses more often when they feel confused by their emotions, the choices at hand, or due to peer pressure. Introduce them to these questions that can act as guides throughout their life. If they are indecisive about attending a friend's birthday party vs staying home, gently guide them through the decision.
"What do want to do?"
"Why do you think that would be better?"
"Is there a reason you don't want to go?" (This helps them differentiate between choosing what they like VS avoiding what they fear/dislike.)
5. Help them connect emotions with decisions
As adults, we are more than aware that decisions get tricky the minute emotions are involved. Yet, we hardly realize that even the most-thought-out decisions are influenced by what we are feeling at the moment. You could have spoken your mind and said exactly what you think when a bossy colleague crossed the line once again, but you didn't. Much later, you realize it wasn't wisdom or a forgiving heart that stopped you from responding, it was fear. Teach kids to detect feelings that underly all decisions. In the above example, you can guide them to navigate through the process by asking them questions (which they will learn to ask themselves later on).
"How will you feel if you stayed home instead of attending Sam's party?"
"How will you feel when everyone at school talks about the part on Monday?"
"You seem worried about going to the party, although to me it seems like you would enjoy it. Are you afraid to go?"
Fear is a common denominator that makes children avoid the harder options. Identifying this is the first step in making self-nurturing decisions.
6. Allow them to get familiar with their intuition
Despite your personal beliefs and where you stand in the intuitive—logical continuum of decision-making, be respectful of your child's intuition. Most kids are very intuitive, a skill we lose as we grow in our aim to get more practical or rational. Intuition is as dependable and sometimes more so than your rational brain. As a species, humankind evolved by relying on their innate skills to detect danger and survive through quick action. Major neurotransmitters—serotonin and dopamine—that are necessary for our cognitive skills are present in our gut. It isn't without reason that our intuition is almost always right.
If your child says things like "I don't know, but I just feel it isn't good for me." or "I am not sure why, but I don't feel like being around him" trust their intuitive wisdom. Their intuition is a life-long friend that can guide them through important decisions.
7. Teach them about consequences
And to stand up for it. As kids, many children are satisfiers (being okay with good enough as long as it gives them instant satisfaction) VS maximizers (weighing in all options to zero in on the most beneficial choice). When we guide children through their decisions by talking about possible consequences, they learn to balance both these aspects.
"Sure, you can skip soccer practice to spend time with Will. But don't you have a game this Friday? I wonder if Coach Jane will be disappointed when she doesn't see you today."
8. Invite them to challenge assumptions
As your kids grow into teens, they are likely to develop strong beliefs about everything. This is an important stage of forming a healthy identity. Allow all the fierce opinions to have their way, but in quiet moments when they aren't too charged up, invite them to consider opinions and views that are different from theirs. You can model this by your own behavior as you preparing them for adulthood. You can discuss your own dilemma with them by asking them for their insights. I have this situation at work. "I believe my boss is wrong when he made that comment and I feel very strongly about how work ethics. But at the same time, I wonder if he, too, has a point. What do you think?"
9. Model the right behavior
How can you practice what you preach? Be aware of how your own emotions are influencing your decisions. You might give a smile and tell your child that you are not meeting her aunt because you are tired, but he is likely to sense a fight or anger that you are refusing to acknowledge. Become self-aware of how your own assumptions stop you from seeing the truth that's staring at your face. Also, your children learn most behavior or "imbibe" them as most psychologists call it by observation.
Do your decisions stem from fear or love? Do you choose the easy way out or fear conflict and end up doing something you hate? When given two choices, do you go for what inspires you or opt it only because the other option freaks you out? Your kid is watching all of this, even if you don't share any of your thoughts verbally. They watch and they learn.
If you have any views or stories that you would like to share with us, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org