Decision Dharma

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D = Decision Dharma

Encouraging children to make their own choices by showing them the cause and effect relationship of consequences to those choices is incredibly empowering.

Many parents often feel like their job is to teach and enforce a strict set of rules. After all, how else will children be safe, learn how to behave and ensure success in the real world? The problem with giving kids a list of rules that must be followed to avoid punishment is that it doesn’t teach kids how to make wise decisions when the parental enforcers aren’t around. Just obtaining compliance isn’t a long-term strategy, because every human child has so much more potential than that.

First, they will more likely remember a rule or guidance if they understand it. Secondly, effects will be more personally meaningful for them if they understand the thinking the lead up to it. Third, parents won’t always be there. We need children to be able to think on their own two feet, with a solid capacity to weigh information, anticipate outcomes and make good choice. This method promotes responsibility and strong decision making skills.

The best part is that children’s bright minds seek this sort of engagement. No child likes to hear “because I said so!” Their natural curiosity and intelligence wants to grow to understand more.

Research suggests that teaching kids critical thinking skills can actually boost their IQ!

Simple Steps

  • Give an allowance. Giving your kids their own spending money and control over how to spend it provides real life experience with consequences. They’ll be able to learn firsthand how choosing to spend money on one item means they won’t have money for another item. They’ll learn to filter their choices through values and end up with good decisions. You can adjust the amount of the allowance to accommodate for growing levels of responsibility as a child ages or matures. Don’t fret bad choices…it’s a small price to pay for a lesson learned. Consider it a tuition payment!
  • Discuss possible outcomes of choices. Before you insist your child put on a coat to go outside, ask them what they think might happen if they go outside without one. Talk to them about the potential effects of ignoring schoolwork or being rude to a friend. Often times, your child will make the right decision on their own after looking at possible outcomes. If and when they don’t, let them experience the natural consequences of their choices, even if that means letting them feel uncomfortable for a while. The mistakes will give you something concrete to talk about when new decision points come along.
  • Use real cause and effect consequences to actions. Often times parents will come up with consequences for breaking rules that are meant to motivate, but aren’t direct results of the poor behavior. Taking away a video game, for example, isn’t a natural effect of leaving a dirty dish unwashed. The natural effect could be having a much harder dish to wash. Using logical consequences will help teach your child reasoning and make them more likely to cooperate with family rules.
  • Offer kids lots of opportunities to practice. As with any skill, your children will get better at making decision with practice. Offer your kids the chance to make age-appropriate choices whenever possible. Young kids can be given the choice between two types of foods or outfits to wear for the day. As your kids age, they can make decisions about more and more aspects of their lives if you have established a pattern of talking through decision points together as a family.

Learn More

Parent Trust has a good article about how to balance teaching decision making skills with keeping your kids safe. Zen Family Habits also has a detailed article about how to teach kids to make their own choices.