Helping children develop decision-making skills

Should I involve my child in decision-making? This question, perhaps, has lingered in the minds of many a parent. Popular culture sees decision-making in children differently. This culture insists that parents make decisions for their children; from what they eat and drink, to what they wear, watch, hear and play.

But did you know that decision-making is, in fact, a very important skill for children to learn, regardless of their age?

Your children can gain several benefits from making their own decisions. Decision-making will influence how they behave and get along with others, as well as shape them into the type of adult they become and the life paths they choose.

When children make good decisions, they will not only feel good, but also experience a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment because they have made those decisions.

On the other hand, if your children make bad decisions, then they may suffer for it, but also learn from the experience. This can help them make better decisions in the future.

So the question is, how can you, as a parent, help your children learn decision-making skills?

Starting the process

Giving your children some decision-making power should be done in stages, and is usually based on age, maturity and previous decision-making abilities.

It is dangerous to give your child complete freedom to make decisions.

Your children constantly make decisions, but you may be inadvertently interfering with this process by stepping in to "correct" them to ensure a good result. This is entirely normal as you do not want your child to fail or suffer embarrassment.

However, the time will come when your child will need to make his/her own decisions and you will not be available for him/her to consult. It is with this moment in mind that you should start training your child to make his/her own decisions now.

To help your children make decisions, you must first educate them about the decision-making process. It is hard to master decision-making, and many adults have not perfected this skill.

Start the process off with baby steps; first, help your child recognise when he/she has made a good or poor choice. When he/she snatched his/her sibling's toy and ran to his/her room with it, was that a good or bad choice? When your child decided to help you with gardening and helped you finish earlier, was that a poor or good choice?

Even better, involve your child when making decisions for the family (eg going on a holiday, buying an appliance for the house), especially if the decisions will also impact them. Try to get their opinion as this will help them build up their own self-confidence by contributing to the family's decision-making process.

Some tips

Here are a few ways to help your kids make decisions that are not impulsive, nor focused on immediate satisfaction:

1. Teach them to pause and think before leaping. A few seconds of thinking can prevent a lot of bad decisions.

Your child must also have an understanding about the issues at hand before he/she is ready to make any kind of decision. You should help and guide your child to identify and analyse the problem before coming up with possible options. Help your child to fully understand the issues at hand whenever he/she is faced with a decision-making dilemma, and then ask him/her how he/she thinks it can be solved.

2. Get them to ask themselves some key questions and evaluate their options. You will want your children to understand their options and decisions; so get them to ask themselves, "Why do I want to do this?" and "What are my options?"

Children often have different motivations and while they may know that doing something is silly, they may feel peer pressure or other reasons to do it anyway.

3. Evaluate the consequences. Get your children to then ask themselves, "What are the consequences of my actions?" or "How much trouble will I get in?"

Children need to weigh the risks and benefits of their decision, both in the short and long term.

4. Understand their decision. The most important question that children must ask themselves is, "Was my decision in my best interests?" Having these concerns, weighing competing options, and making a decision that is in their best interests, is the hallmark of a good decision-making process.

An easy way to remember how to approach the problem-solving and decision-making process is by doing it the IDEAL way:

·Identify the problem

·Describe possible options

·Evaluate every option (weigh the pros and cons)

·Act upon the best option available

·Learn from the experience whether the decision was good or bad

While children will not always make good decisions, they often like to be treated equally and be in control of certain things.

Breathing room

It is important to step back and let your kids choose freely as it is crucial for their development. Of course, you should not let that stop you from stepping in if your child's decision may lead to bodily harm. If there is a possibility of this happening, take back the reigns and make the choice for him/her.

Be sure that you take the opportunity to immediately discuss the reasons why you acted the way you did. In the future, there is a higher chance that your child will remember that his/her initial decision was unwise.

Learning to make consistently good decisions is a process that takes time, and no one can learn it overnight. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, you need to provide guidance to your child in order to help them become independent.

Location and situation

Most children don't do well in busy, chaotic surroundings, so it might be too much to expect your child to make reasoned, thoughtful decisions in such a scenario. Your child will be exposed to stimuli that he/she is not used to, and therefore, have trouble dealing with.

Other than the settings and surroundings, you should also be aware of your own verbal and physical approach when asking your child to make a decision. Try getting down to your child's eye-level by sitting at the table or crouching to talk to him/her; be sure that your discussion is as calm as possible and avoid becoming over-reactive.

Learning from mistakes

More often than not, most parents tend to focus on pushing their children to make the "right" decision in the hopes of shielding them from disappointment.

However, it's important to bear in mind that sometimes, it's the bad decisions that will teach your child the most, provided you do not over-react with negative remarks, or ridicule or belittle him/her.

You should instead offer your support, encouragement and emphasise any valuable lessons that can be learnt by your child's failures and mistakes; also discuss with him/her on how he/she can bounce back in the wake of setbacks and failures by adopting the right approach.

Give him/her the opportunity to discover things through trial and error. This will help your child feel empowered, so that he/she will be better prepared for all the bigger decisions ahead of them.

It is up to parents to guide and help their children develop good decision-making skills and grow up to become independent, responsible, and happy adults.