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Category Archives: Communication

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”.

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Remember being sent to bed without dinner, grounded and forced to stay in your room for the day, or banned from watching TV for a week? I do.

But does punishing kids actually change their behavior for the better? New research shows that threatening punishment actually encourages another unwanted behavior: lying.

It makes sense. If lying (“I didn’t drop your phone and crack the screen – promise!”) means I avoid getting punished, I’ve just gotten positively reinforced for lying.

“If you want to encourage your child to tell you the truth and establish a pattern of honest communication, research suggests that a firm but warm parenting style that encourages honesty without threatening punishment is your best bet,” says Charity Ferreira on the Great Schools blog.

I realize this approach easier said than done, but here’s what I recommend:

  • Don’t explode at your kid when there’s been an infraction.
  • Do your best to stay calm.
  • Talk to your kid about what’s happened. Make the consequences for their behavior fair and reasonable.
  • Initiate a discussion about what an appropriate consequence should be. That way your child gets the message that being honest with you works out in their favor— even when the truth is something they know you’re not going to like.

More resources on how the science of character development can guide your parenting style here: Building Character

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