Allowing your kids to make their own decisions is an essential component of raising a solid adult. Of course you’re not going to allow your 6 year old to decide if he wants to walk home alone from school, or your 10 year old to decide she wants unlimited access to the internet. But giving your child the power to make age-appropriate decisions, and accepting that only some of them will be successful, goes a long way to preparing her for the realities of being a grown-up.
In an article on Psychology Today’s website, “Parenting: Decision Making” Jim Taylor, Ph.D., a teacher at the University of San Francisco specializing in the psychology of parenting, recommends breaking down the decision making process for your child.
He says, “Because children lack experience and perspective, they tend to make decisions that are impulsive and focused on immediate gratification.” Given that fact, a good first step is to teach them to remember to stop before they leap and ask themselves some key questions:
1. “Why do I want this?” In other words, what is my motivation and does it make sense for me (especially even if my friends may believe otherwise)?
2. “What are my options?” I can go camping with my friends but that would mean missing my mother’s birthday. Is there a decision I can make that feels right?
3. “What are the consequences of my actions?” Am I weighing the costs vs. the rewards of the choice I make? (Or, often times, “How much trouble will I be in if I do xyz?”)
Dr. Taylor suggests presenting your child with hypothetical moral dilemmas, such as what to do when their friends are teasing another child, and then engage them in a conversation about what they would do.
Guaranteed your kids will still do stupid things (don’t we all?) and make decisions that aren’t in their best interest, but that’s the point. Learning how to make sound decisions is a trial and error process that includes living with the uncomfortable consequences of impulsive ones, and recognizing the benefits of well thought out ones.
What it all boils down to is recognizing that decision making is a complex skill that requires your guidance as a parent. Give your kids opportunities to make their own decisions understanding it’s inevitable that some of them will not go well. They, and you, will benefit from the truth behind the adage, “Live and learn”.