Fostering strong decision-making skills
Learning to make well thought out, sensible and effective choices is a crucial life skill. Let’s look at how to foster this ability in children.
As parents, we hold the key to shaping our children’s future, and one of the most crucial abilities we can instil in them is how to make a good decision. Empowering children with the skills to make thoughtful choices will set them on a path of independence, responsibility and success. Armed with some clever strategies, you should be able to help your children of any age develop their decision-making skills, encouraging them to be responsible and have confidence in themselves.
The toddler years mark the beginning of a child’s journey towards being able to make sound choices. It might seem a little soon for such a big concept, but it’s actually beneficial to sow the seeds of independence as early as possible. Here are some approaches you can try:
Real world decision-making
Even at this tender age, toddlers are capable of making small choices. Try to offer your little one age-appropriate options. This could mean choosing between two different toys, two bedtime stories or two different ‘tidy-up’ tasks. Although these decisions may seem trivial, they teach toddlers that their opinions matter, whilst the act of choosing will build their confidence.
It’s essential to create a safe environment for toddlers to explore and learn from their decisions. Fear of failure or of making a mistake could hold your child back, especially later in life. Supporting kids in learning from their mistakes will actually grant them really valuable life experience, protecting children from making mistakes often takes that opportunity to learn away.
If your little one makes a choice that results in a small consequence, like pouring too much water into a glass and spilling it, resist the urge to criticise. Instead, encourage them to clean up the mess and explain the importance of being careful next time.
It can be useful to give your toddler controlled choices, so they can practise decision-making without getting overwhelmed. For example, you could offer them two outfits to choose from for the day or ask if they prefer apple slices or grapes for a snack.
What to avoid when giving controlled choices
While offering choices is essential, it’s best to avoid open-ended options, as they provide your little one with too much control, which can lead to unnecessary stress or disagreement. Instead of asking, “What do you want to wear today?”, try providing two specific outfit options to streamline the decision-making process.
As children grow, their choices become more complex. It is vital to continue nurturing their abilities in an age-appropriate way, providing guidance as they hone their skill set.
Be a role model
Children learn by watching and copying their parents, so it’s important to show kids positive decision-making behaviours. As adults, we are generally so used to making choices that we may not think about the process we go through. Try discussing your thought process aloud when coming to decisions. Your little one can observe you weighing up the pros and cons or thinking through any alternative options. These examples can give children clues as to how you make good decisions.
When decisions impact children directly, involve them in the discussion. Whether this means choosing extracurricular activities or planning family outings, try to listen to their preferences and reasons, and validate them. These interactions will foster your child’s growing sense of agency and responsibility.
To truly support your child in making well-informed decisions, ask open-ended questions and give them the space to express themselves. Let’s look at some simple ways to help your child process information effectively.
Weighing the pros and cons
The question “What are the potential outcomes of each option?” is an excellent opportunity to teach your child the art of weighing pros and cons. Rather than rushing into quick judgements, guide them through a quick analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of each choice. These simple conversations can help your little one understand that every decision comes with its own set of consequences and that taking the time to evaluate these can lead to wiser choices.
Emotions play a significant role in decision-making and discussing them openly can be very useful. When you ask your child, “How do you feel about each choice?” be open to hearing about their feelings, experiences and thoughts. Creating an emotionally safe space allows them to express any concerns or hesitations they might have, leading to more well-rounded decisions.
It’s crucial to encourage your child to consider the possible consequences of their decisions. While discussing both positive and negative outcomes, help them understand that sometimes, risks are worth taking, but with awareness and responsibility. By discussing real-life examples and scenarios, you can illustrate the importance of foresight and how it plays a role in shaping the consequences of their actions.
If your child encounters similar challenges due to recurring decision-making patterns, help them recognise these trends. By pinpointing patterns, they can gain a deeper understanding of their decision-making style and make conscious efforts to address any unproductive habits.
The teenage years mark a significant transition in a child’s life, usually filled with increasing independence and greater responsibilities. As your teen navigates bigger decisions, equipping them with the right skills becomes even more essential. Here are some ways to tackle this tricky task.
At this stage in life, your teen wants to be more independent and to be treated as an emerging adult. To honour this, it can be good to involve teenagers in family discussions around choices that impact the household. Big or small, inviting your teen to give their input reinforces a sense of responsibility and accountability. It also shows them that their opinions are valued and respected within the family dynamic.
A safety net
While it’s necessary and positive to give your child more autonomy as they go through their teenage years, it’s equally as important to underline the fact that you are always there as a safety net. Knowing they have your support and guidance, even as they make their choices, is very reassuring. This sense of safety from you can actually boost teens’ confidence in making decisions, as they feel that if something goes wrong, you will be there to help.
A balancing act
During your child’s adolescence, it’s important to strike a balance between granting autonomy and offering guidance. As you give your teen room to make their decisions, also try to be a supportive presence that they can turn to for advice and insights. Open communication is key here, and when your child looks for your input, remember to give consideration of consequences with them. This balanced approach helps teens to develop their skills while benefiting from your life experiences and wisdom.
As teenagers venture into the world of decision-making, they will undoubtedly encounter situations where risks need to be taken. While you might emphasise the importance of making informed choices, it can also be good to encourage teens to engage in calculated risk-taking. Assure them that you are there to support them regardless of the outcome, providing a safety net that fosters the courage to explore new opportunities. By experiencing calculated risks, they will develop their adaptability and resilience, two valuable qualities that will serve them throughout their life.
Learning from mistakes
With bigger decisions, come bigger consequences. Reinforcing the value of learning from mistakes is still very important as a parent. When your teen encounters setbacks or makes decisions that end up with a less than ideal outcome, avoid criticism or the blame game. Instead, try to foster a family environment where mistakes are treated as learning opportunities. Guide your child carefully through the process of reflection, so they can learn lessons from their experiences and avoid repeating the same mistakes again.
Developing the skills needed to make good choices throughout childhood sets the stage for several other great qualities to form alongside these skills. These are attributes that will benefit your child significantly, shaping them into a well-rounded, capable individual.
When children learn to bounce back from mistakes and setbacks, they cultivate resilience, a fundamental skill for navigating life’s challenges. Resilience empowers kids and teens to view obstacles as opportunities for growth, nurturing their sense of determination and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Critical thinking is one of the hallmarks of good decision-making. By evaluating all the information, weighing up your options and considering the possible consequences, children enhance their ability to make well-reasoned choices. This is a skill that is invaluable in both academic and real-world settings, one that will help your child to solve problems effectively all their life.
Responsibility and empathy
Grasping the impact our decisions have on ourselves and others is a crucial aspect of being able to make good choices. As children develop a sense of responsibility and start to recognise how their choices may impact those around them, they cultivate empathy. As this grows, they will become more considerate of the consequences of their actions, a trait that will allow them to forge stronger relationships in life and act with a developed sense of compassion.
Good decision-making instils a sense of self-assurance in children. When they trust their judgement and capabilities, they become more willing to take on challenges and explore new opportunities. Confidence paves the way for personal growth and enables them to embrace their individuality, something that will serve them well throughout life.
Helping children develop decision-making skills is an invaluable gift to give as parents. By providing the scaffolding needed for little ones to feel confident about making choices, we shape our children into self-assured, responsible individuals, capable of navigating life’s challenges. As kids progress through each stage of development, toddlers, children and teens will learn to make choices that align with their values and goals, ultimately preparing them for the complexities of adulthood. Using the tools laid out in this article, you should be better able to equip your children to become successful and thoughtful decision-makers in their own right.