Dr Richard C. Woolfson
You spend your life protecting your child, keeping her safe and making decisions that will ensure her best interests. Yet there comes a time to start sharing that responsibility with your growing child. The challenge facing you is to know the best way to entrust and encourage your child to make simple, safe and independent decisions. Here’s how.
1. START OFF SMALL
Build up your child’s confidence and decision-making skills by allowing her to make minor choices. For instance, let her decide between two breakfast cereals in the morning, or what clothes she’d like to wear. These are relatively unimportant judgements, but they give your growing child early experience of making decisions. The more she does this, the better her confidence when it comes to flying solo.
2. PROS AND CONS
Encourage your child to think carefully about the impact of her decisions. Ask why she chose this one instead of that one. Let her explain the rationale behind her selection. Do this in a friendly, open way, or else your child will assume you are critical of her decisions.
Conversations of these sort encourage your child to evaluate the options very carefully, a process which should underpin all her decision-making.
Suppose, for example, your child can’t decide whether to wear her new trainers for playing in the park this afternoon or to wear her old trainers and keep her new ones for a special occasion. Sit with her and talk about the positive and negative implications.
Ask her to think what it would mean to her to put on her new footwear – for example, she would be delighted to see new trainers on her feet but she would also feel miserable because they would get dirty, leaving her without a “special” pair. And what it would mean to put on her old trainers – for example, she would feel disappointed knowing a new pair is in a box at home, but she would be pleased because she could wear them in pristine condition when going out with her friend.
3. SET LIMITS
Weighing up the facts like this – even when the decision is trivial – helps your child reach an informed choice, a choice that is based on her full awareness of the different alternatives available to her.
Obviously you need to set limits on the range of choices available to your child, so that there is no misunderstanding. However, if you do allow her to choose, remember that she might make an independent decision which is different from the choice you would really like her to make. It’s important that you don’t undermine the process by indicating your disapproval. After all, there’s no point in telling her that she has a free choice when you don’t actually mean it.
If you want to help your child learn how to make sensible choices in her life, she must be allowed to have the final say (unless you specifically make it clear beforehand that you’ll make the decision yourself). Only tell her she has a choice when you are genuinely prepared to let her make the selection.
Related: When to say yes or no to your child
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