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Helping Your Children Make Good Decisions

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Father and son sitting at yard
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Daniel was a high-strung kid; of that there was no doubt. In his early middle school years, he had a mind of his own and thought he was ready to be free from all parental involvement. He had reached the stage where he was sure that his dad was just not as smart as he was.

One morning, Daniel's dad was getting the kids off to school while his mom was out of town. Something Daniel's dad did wasn't exactly the way his mom would have done it, and Daniel kind of freaked out. He ran out the back door and climbed high up in the tree in the back yard to a very high branch - certainly higher than his father could climb and he refused to go to school. No amount of coaxing or bribing on the part of his dad could convince him otherwise. Dad had little choice but to get the other kids to school while Daniel pondered his actions high up in the tree. Later, after he calmed down and regained his temper, he carefully climbed down the tree and went to school.

But his father knew that there had to be consequences for the inappropriate behavior. So Daniel got a tardy mark at school and had to stay for detention. When he returned home, Daniel's dad gave him an assignment to write a report on how he should act when things don't go the way he expects. And then Daniel and his dad had a long talk about making decisions.

If you were Daniel's father, what would you tell him about making good decisions? How would you suggest that he think about his choices and make the best decision?

In some ways, these are the most important questions any father can ask himself. A big responsibility of a father is to teach good decision making skills to his children. Helping children learn to think about and make good decisions is one of the most critical gifts a father can give.

Teach by example. Model your own best decision making skills where you children can watch and learn. For example, if you are in the mall and want something but don't buy it, visit with them about your decision and why you chose not to buy. "I would love these golf clubs, but I know we need to pay for Sandy's braces right now. Maybe I can think about getting them after her braces are off."

Start them off with a few options. When you are giving your children a choice, only give them a couple of options. "For dinner tomorrow night, would you rather have spaghetti or tacos?" Having some successful decisions where the choices are limited will help children develop confidence in their decision making skills.

Teach children a decision-making formula. Most successful decisions come after following a basic formula. There are many, but most follow a pattern like this:

  • Define the problem. What is the decision you need to make? What is the problem it solves?

  • Explore the choices. To solve the problem, what options do I have? Are all the choices possible? Are they safe or risky? Ask lots of "what if" questions like, "What if I fail at this choice?"

  • Understand the consequences. Each choice has pluses and minuses. Some choices cost more than others or take more resources. Some choices have immediate benefits; for others, the benefits are delayed. Some choices made will preclude others. Thinking through the consequences of each choice will help children learn to narrow the range of acceptable choices.

  • Make a decision. When there are different choices, your child must pick one and implement it. Stalling out a decision without a good reason is just indecisiveness.

  • Evaluate and learn from the decision. Once a decision is made, find out what you can learn. If the decision was the best one, look at how the decision was made and help that become a pattern. If it was the wrong decision, look at the process and see what the children missed.

Don't solve their problems. Too often, fathers want to be in the "fix it" mode and try to solve problems for their children. Rather than making a decision for your children, help them make it themselves. And then don't bail them out when things go wrong if they do.

Be there before they decide. When the children are younger, be around them enough that you can help them think things through before they make a decision. Talking your children through the process before is a lot easier than helping them repair a mistake later.

Taking the time to walk your children through the process of making a decision will help them learn the best way to decide. Remember, they will learn more from a little trial and error than they will if you make every decision for them. Having strong problem solving and decision making skills will help your children learn what they need to be strong decision makers in their adult life.

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