(Originally published January 13th, 2021 on my former web-hosting platform.)
I've talked about encouraging our children's successful progress at school.
We also need to encourage our children's ability to make decisions. Some children come by this ability quite naturally. I have one child who knows what he wants and can make decisions quickly. The other child takes more time making decisions. He is more concerned about consequences and being able to live with the "right" decision. Both children benefit from encouragement when it comes to those decisions, however. While "bad" decisions are great teachers, we'd like to help our children avoid them when possible.
Experience tells us (and research confirms) we tend to make poor choices when we feel rushed, when we don't stop to think, when we are bored, when something sounds like fun (pair that with not stopping to think), peer pressure, and when consequences aren't considered. Kids make poor decisions for the same reasons. It's our job to help them consider these options as they face choices.
We begin by helping our child make decisions by giving choices. My mom was great at asking, "Andrea, do you want to wear the red shirt of the blue shirt?" She would limit choices so that it was easier to make a decision. As I grew, so did the choices and consequences.
Today's post about encouragement is focused on their decision making ability and the after-effects.
We can be available for our child to let us know they have a choice to make. Other times we are the ones issuing the choice. But if it's a choice they are receiving at school or from a friend or extra-curricular source, we want them to know they can come to us.
Ask questions. Don't jump in, though. Wait for them to tell you about it. Then ask questions to be sure you understand the situation and options. Then ask what your child is leaning toward. Don't ask what he/she is going to do, though. They feel locked in at that point. If you ask what they are thinking about, that's a work in progress. Feel free to ask what the consequences would be if they chose that option...or another option. It's okay if YOU already know; you are asking to be sure your CHILD knows. By asking you are giving your child autonomy to have his/her own thoughts. If they don't know the consequences, try to work them toward it without lecturing.
Understand why your child thinks a given choice is best. Don't necessarily poke holes in her/his logic. Seek to understand (James 1:19). Again, ask questions as needed to get them to think it through.
Know for yourself if one option is dangerous or violates ethics or family rules. If so, and your child is clear on those issues, then he/she probably already knows those outcomes and has identified them. If they haven't discounted that option, it's okay to take something off the table for those reasons ("honey, you know we don't want you to go to parties where there are no parents, so let's take that one out of the running.").
Once all of the options are (reasonably) acceptable to you, say something like, "it sounds like you are thinking it through well. Thanks for telling me about it. I trust you'll make a good decision." Then leave the child with it. If he/she wants to talk more about it, they will. As long as the remaining options aren't dangerous, illegal, or violating family principles you may not like the choice they make and that's okay.
Follow up. Once the decision has been made, ask how it went. Again, questions are good, lecturing is not. The goal is to let our children learn from their experiences.
If we play our cards right, this starts early (like elementary age) when the issues are not that big. Then when they are teenagers they know how to do this. But it's never too late - start today, no matter how old they are!
Remember to keep encouraging your child's ability to make a good decision. Then when they are old, they will know the right way to go (Proverbs 22:6).
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