Two years ago, Princess (then aged 8), was invited to a close friend’s sleepover birthday party on the same night as her dance school’s cabaret in which she had been asked to perform. The birthday party was at the same time but over an hours drive from the dance cabaret. We let Princess work out, with guidance and discussion, what she should and would do. Although she desperately wanted to go to her close friend’s party, she realised that her dance class needed her to perform that night with them. Thus, her decision would affect her dance class and the routine they would be performing. She chose the dance cabaret and we all had a fabulous night. The following year, a similar situation occurred and she chose the dance cabaret again, this time without much hesitation.
One of our role’s as parents is to enable and empower our children to choose wisely. We need to get to the place where we release our children to fly on their own and to be successful, letting them know that we will always be there to encourage and support them and to talk things through if they need a sounding board. To get to this place, our children need to have had experience making good decisions and they need to be responsible and mature.
What steps do we encourage them to take in weighing up decisions:
1. Establish the real issue.
2. Identify the options. Be creative. Brainstorm, asking “Is there anything else you could do?”.
3. Weigh the pros and cons. We often draw a line down a sheet of paper and put positives on one side, negatives on the other side.
4. Evaluate who their decision impacts ie does it involve a team sport etc.
5. Look at the worst case scenario. How bad is it? Talk through the consequences of the decision.
6. Do you have a sense of peace about the decision. Can you wait a few days before making the final decision? Have you prayed about it together and on your own?
7. Weigh up the life changing aspect of the decision and only give it the amount of “emotional” time that it really needs ie Ask yourself. “Is this decision going to change anything for my life in 10 years time?”. If not, don’t spend time agonising over what you will do. I believe that this is a really important principle to teach our kids.
8. Chat about it with a wise person. Sometimes others can see something that isn’t evident to yourself and give you a fresh perspective.
There is a lot of groundwork needed to help your children reach maturity in decision making, even before big decisions need to be made. Our 7 year old son finds it hard to think through the consequences of his actions before he acts. Thus, there are some things we need to do to help him in this process, even before he needs to make bigger choices for himself.
Actions that you can take today to empower your children making wise decisions are:
1. Simplify life by limiting their amount of choices. I would encourage you to help your children by simplifying their life. I believe that we give young children too many choices. Even before toddlers have been awake an hour, they have usually been given a myriad of choices about what to wear, what to have for breakfast, even when to have breakfast, etc etc. It is not healthy to give them too many choices at that age. They don’t need to have a choice about breakfast. They just need to eat what is served up to them every morning. The same with a baby’s toys. They only need a couple of toys to play with. It is not helpful for them to have too many toys in front of them or they find it hard to actually play with any toys and have choice overload.
When we go grocery shopping, it is not helpful to me or my children if we stop in the cereal aisle and look at every cereal and try to choose what we will buy that day. My kids know the staple choices and we just stop and collect them. We may include a choice between two or three different types of biscuits, but not everything. One of the keys is simplifying our life and simplifying our choices. Are there some choices that you need to restrict and simplify that will then aid your children overall in their decision making process?
2. Commit to something and stay committed. Last summer, I was thrilled with my daughter’s comments about her cousins from interstate here on holiday only being able to catch up one day when she was already committed for the whole morning to her swimming squad training. When signing up for the swimming squad, she had had to commit to attending all the sessions, unless she was sick. When this opportunity came up to catch up with her cousins, she realised she had already committed to swimming training that morning and couldn’t back out. She remained committed and accepted that she would miss out on some time with her cousins. I fully supported and encouraged this show of maturity and responsibility.
My husband and I were involved in youth ministry for a number of years and it always saddened us to see young adults who would never commit to anything until the last minute in case a better offer came up. We don’t want to see that in our children, but we also want our children to not necessarily make a decision on the spur of the moment if it needs some thought.
3. Model great decision making. We can’t expect our children to do something if we are not doing it in our own life. Evaluate how you make decisions. I find it helpful to talk through with the kids how my husband and I come to an agreement on some decisions. Sometimes it is appropriate to invite suggestions and input from the kids as we make the decisions, but we let them know that hubby and I will have the final say at this point in time.
4. Let them make a bad choice and suffer the consequence whilst still young. We have found, especially with Matey, that he doesn’t always think through the consequence before he does something. He has had to suffer a few times because of wrong choices and we only have to remind him of a previous incorrect choice and he soon evaluates the current choice through those lenses.
5. Practice good decision making. Do role plays. Kids love acting out roles especially wrong, or not the best, decisions. Read stories together about kids making decisions. Stop at an appropriate point and chat about what they would do in that situation. We are currently reading a series of books by Nancy Simpson Levene about an 8 year old girl called Alex who says one lie and then it spirals out of control. We have loved stopping and chatting about what she should do at various stages throughout the story.
6. Remember to be age appropriate. The older and wiser and more mature your children are, the easier it is for them to make wise decisions and to give them more responsibility. Don’t give them too much responsibility too early on. It isn’t fair on them.
7. A practical action to take with a four year old child to see whether they can handle delayed gratification, responsibility, etc is to place a lolly in front of them on the table. Tell them that they have a choice. They can choose to eat the lolly now or they can choose to leave it on the table for 20 minutes. If they leave it on the table for 20 minutes, they will then receive 3 lollies. This gives a great indication of their ability to cope with delayed gratification.
How have you empowered your children in their decision making skills? Please feel free to comment and let me know as I would love to learn and grow in this area.