Teaching Your Child How to Make Decisions

So, What Will You Do?

Fostering effective decision-making skills in your child

The basic underlying goal of every parent is to prepare their child for life’s challenges. However, when you feel like you are “flying by the seat of your pants” every day, this can feel like a very daunting task.  So, what will you do?  How do you prepare your child for adulthood?  This question alone can bring up all types of issues and concerns about what to explain to your child and when.  The key is to keep things simple and consistent.  All parents want to see their child be successful and handle themselves well in the world.   So how do you begin to teach decision-making?  When do you start? You teach it by asking your child to come up with their own solution the very first time they ask you for one.
First…validate any feelings that are involved.
Your six-year-old comes home from school very upset.  You immediately ask, “What’s wrong?”  He’s sad and frustrated because the kids at school won’t play with him. You answer with, “I can see why you are upset.  I would be too”, validating his feelings.

Second…ask, in a genuinely concerned way, “So, what will you do?”
The most important thing is to show that you care, you are available and that you know they have what it takes to solve their own problems.  This is not about just leaving them on their own at first.  When you ask, “So, what will you do?”, you may just get a questioned look or “I don’t know.”  Then you could ask, “Well, how do you want it to turn out?”  You may have to go back and forth several times.  Stay with probing questions as much as possible.  At first you may have to assist with some suggestions while at the same time encouraging your child to come up with their own solution.  In the scenario here you might ask, “Why do you think they don’t want to play with you?” to initiate a deeper thought process.  You may have to revisit the same issue several times before arriving at a decision that actually works.  Resist the temptation to offer your solution, instead, look at it as an opportunity for practice.  You can also use phrases like “How will you handle that?” or “So, how will you fix it?”.

Third…listen, give feedback and coach.
Once your child starts the dialogue, your job is to listen, ask probing questions and help him stay focused on what he will do.  Your challenge is to stay away from coming up with the asnwer. Continue using responses such as, “Tell me more”, or “I see”, or “I don’t understand. Tell me again”, or “So, what you are saying is…”.   When a decision is reached you may have to help with some coaching on how to follow through.  In the example I’ve used above, if he decided that he needed to be better at sharing his toys, you could coach him in how to do that.

Teaching effective decision-making skills does not have to be hard.  Make it a game. Encourage flipping roles with your child to have her ask you, “So, what will you do?”. Of course, make sure it is age-appropriate.  It could be as simple as, “I don’t know what to prepare for dinner.”  Practicing these three steps now will just make those later life challenges easier to handle.  Like when you hear for the first time, “I am so sorry!  I crushed the fender on the car!”  You will be practiced enough to first ask if they are OK, then follow that up with, “So, how will you handle it?”

So remember…take care of yourself today. Be risky. And most of all…have fun.

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