Good decision-making skills, when acquired at the right age, can help children to become successful in life. After all, we are the sum of our decisions and their consequences. To help children, parents and nannies must be intentional about teaching decision making and provide opportunities for children to identify and intentionally make decisions when appropriate.
Decisions made by children affect their well-being, physical health, mental health, social status and academic success. Decision-making skills help children become responsible and independent. It also helps children to control impulsive behavior and withstand peer pressure. The relationship children have with themselves and their views of success largely depend on their goals, decision making, and actions.
So how do we teach children about decision-making?
It begins when children are young and progresses throughout their growth. These techniques help children learn to embrace decision-making and realize the tradeoffs and consequences of the decisions they make.
- Identify when a decision is needed. The first step is helping children realize when decisions are made. Often decisions are made for young children and they do not even realize it. Help children identify these situations so they begin to understand the process. Explain to them shy a decision is being made and the significance of the decision. Young children can begin making decisions when they are given the choice between an apple or an orange for snack. Elementary students advance to choices such as how to allocate their 2 hours of screen time per day between watching tv or playing video games. Teenagers should begin to make higher level decisions such as choosing among extracurricular activities and sports or other after school activities. It is important to help children learn they are making trade-offs and choices and that there are consequences involved in decision-making. Encourage them to think about their decision-making process more actively.
- Model good decision-making. Since children learn by observing their parents, caregivers and peers, they should be exposed to decision making early on and, when possible, nannies and parents should include them in making simple or group decisions. Children of all ages can choose their outfits for the day. Discussing the weather can help them decided between long and short sleeves, but even if they choose short sleeves for a cold day, let them wear the outfit. They will soon learn the consequences of their decision if their arms get cold during the day and they need to add a sweater. Deciding where to go for an informal family dinner is an opportunity to involve children of all ages. They can discuss the various options and then vote for their preferred choice. This helps them understand that choices generally have pros and cons and that their preference may not be the overriding one. Parents and nannies can help children with more difficult decisions by role-playing to talking through the outcomes of different choices.
- Give children the opportunity to make decisions and experience the consequences. Let the child make ‘real world’ decisions and hold them to the consequences. Children sometimes believe that there are no consequences to their actions – we try to protect them as much as possible. However, to develop good decision-making skills, children must learn to accept the consequences of their decisions. If they chose an apple for snack, they should not get the orange when they change their mind. If they spend all their allowance on a new shirt, they should not get a loan to buy a video game subscription.
- Allow children to make mistakes. As adults, we understand buyer’s remorse because we have experienced the rush of an impulse purchase only to be disappointed later. As we learned to manage the behaviors and the feelings that follow, so too must our children. Children learn from their mistakes and it is an important part of learning that helps them make better decisions in the future. Of course, we should not let children make mistakes that will harm them but answering a homework problem wrong or misjudging the distance between skipping stones will lead to learning.
- Manage their inner dialogue. Children should be given plenty of opportunities, but they must understand that they will not excel in all of them. No one does everything well. Learning to accept defeat and setbacks and manage their emotions and response are vital skills. Children need to learn that it is okay to be disappointed or frustrated. It is equally important that children learn how to manage these feelings with perspective, so they do not become too risk-averse.
- Empower children based on their maturity. Some children mature faster than others and can be included in difficult decision making, while others will need more time and support. Every child has different experiences and temperaments. It is important to praise them when they make a good decision based on the information at hand, even when that decision does not work out as planned.
- Be aware of peer pressure and circle of friends. Parents and nannies can role model great decision-making skills, but children can be heavily influenced by their friends. Make sure you know who the children are spending time with and what they are doing and discussing. Have discussions with children about decisions that other children may make and why they are good or poor decisions. Make sure that from a young age, children understand they do not have to ‘follow the pack’ if they think what is happening is not for the best. They need to know they can stand up for themselves and do what they believe is right.
Children who are educated about the decision-making process will gain experience and in the long run, make better decisions for themselves. While wrong decision making is an essential part of everyone’s journey, the greatest amount of satisfaction and fulfillment comes from reaping the benefits of making a good decision. Nannies can learn more about teaching children decision-making skills with classes that teach social skills in the Specialist Childcare Certification program.