So our goal as parents is to give our children experience in making decisions, and to make sure they have the opportunity to reflect on those decisions and learn from them. We also want to raise children who feel good about themselves, so that they take pleasure in making good decisions, rather than bad ones. Research shows that kids who've been treated less than kindly get used to feeling bad, so as teens and adults they make decisions that make them feel bad.
How can you help your child develop good judgment?
1. Practice makes perfect.
Give your child practice making choices even before she begins talking and she'll never have a problem making decisions. Who cares if the stripes and flowers clash? She thinks she looks like a rainbow. And if other people can’t figure out that she dressed herself, you don’t really care about their opinion of your parenting, do you?
2. Be clear about his span of control.
Emphasize what he has the right to make decisions about, and what areas you as the parent retain the right to exert control over.
“Yes, I guess you may wear your superman outfit again, although you’ve worn it every day this week. You’re in charge of choosing your own clothes. But you’ll need to change before we go to services, because there we dress up to show respect. And you’ll need to brush your teeth. Do you want to do it now or before we leave the house?”
"You can invite your friends for Friday night dinner if you want, but you're expected to have dinner with the family on Friday night as usual. You can either go to the movies with your friends after dinner on Friday, or on Saturday."
3. Consciously help your child develop good judgment by reflecting with him.
Many people never develop good judgment because their experience isn't accompanied by reflection. Help him to make decisions consciously (“How will you decide what piece to play for the recital?”) and to think through the possible repercussions of various choices before he makes them (“I wonder if you’ll feel too pressured about getting your homework done if you choose such a hard piece to master.”)
Just as important, offer him the opportunity to reflect on how his decisions worked out (“I know you worked hard preparing for the recital. Are you glad you chose that music?”)
4. Model the process of decision making.
Share how and why you make decisions from the time your child is tiny:
- "I think I'll bring an umbrella on our walk. It looks like rain."
- "I’m going to try the salmon; it's really good for you, and delicious!"
- “I’d like our family to help with the drive for school supplies; all children deserve a good education, and this is one way to help."
5. Give your children control of their own decision-making as it becomes age appropriate.
What's age appropriate? Check out the list of age-appropriate responsibilities on this page:
6. Expect your child to make some bad decisions.
He's still learning about himself as well as about life. It's just more opportunity for reflection and the development of good judgment, as long as you help him consider afterwards how things could have been different if he had made different choices. Remember to ask questions and be supportive, instead of lecturing. That way he discovers for himself what he wishes he had done, instead of getting defensive about what you think he should have done.
Great questions to ask your child:
- "Is there some part of you that thought maybe that wasn't such a good idea?"
- "What kept you from listening to that part of yourself?"
- "I wonder what you could do now to make things better?"
Teens need more decision making latitude, but that does mean they're bound to make some bad decisions. Just try to resist the universal impulse to say “I told you so,” and they'll learn from them!