Home Life by Bev and Phil Haas
The ability to make good choices is one of the most important skills parents can give their children. No parent can prevent a child from making some bad choices as he grows up, but when given the opportunity, kids will learn from their poor choices. And while they are young, the consequences of bad choices are not nearly as costly as when they get older.
Steps for Making Decisions
The world can be a dangerous place and try as we might, we cannot protect our children from every threat. A child’s best defense is the ability to make wise choices and this is a skill that takes practice. So here is a simple, yet effective decision-making model you can use to teach your kids to make wise decisions.
• Discover the real issue. It’s not always easy to determine the real decision to be made. Even adults struggle with wading through the issues. Ask your child how he or she feels about the issue. This step should be treated like a fact-finding mission. Encourage your child to consider all the angles before deciding.
• Look at the various options and their consequences. Children sometimes think they don’t have a choice. And there are times when the only alternative is to do something or not to do it. Most of the time there will be several possible alternatives. Help your child examine the different decisions that could be made. Encourage her to consider the possible consequences of each alternative. Be sure your child is contributing to the discussion so that she will learn to take ownership for the choices she makes. Have your child prioritize the alternatives by ordering them from best to worst.
• Consider God’s Word. Encourage your child to think through the biblical values that relate to the decision at hand. Let God’s Word be a lamp to guide your feet and a light for your path (Psalm 119:105). This will help your child focus on whether his alternatives reflect a desire to follow and honor God—or not.
• Make a decision. Help your child choose an option that seems best. If one alternative seems to be much better than all of the others, encourage that option. If two or more options are acceptable to you, share your opinion, but let your child make the choice. In order to learn to make good decisions, your child has to own the decision as opposed to having it made for her.
• Follow up. This is an often overlooked but important step in teaching kids to learn to make good decisions. Once the decision has been made and implemented, and an appropriate amount of time has passed, revisit the situation with your child. Talk about whether a good decision was made. If things worked out well, affirm your child. If the decision did not turn out well, consider together why it didn’t work, enforce consequences if necessary, and then allow your child to begin the decision making process all over again. By allowing him to try again, you’ll be communicating to him that everyone makes mistakes and he is capable of making good choices.
Making a choice involves learning to live with the decision that’s been made. Please don’t “rescue” your children from their experiences; it may make you feel better now, but it won’t allow your children to learn from their flawed choices.
Tips on Giving Choices
Give your child lots of practice making choices. Jim Fay, co-author of Parenting with Love and Logic (Nav Press, 2006), gives several helpful guidelines for giving your children choices. First, he warns never to give a choice on an issue that might cause a problem for you or anyone else. If your child doesn’t decide in a reasonable time frame when given a choice, decide for him or her. And only give choices that fit your value system.
Children start out unable to handle anything but the simplest choices—chocolate or vanilla? As they grow, their choices become more complex and potentially more costly. Whatever you do now to help your child make good choices will be an investment in future decisions. Keep in mind that children learn how to make big choices by gaining experience through making little choices and by watching you do it.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children, and they have one grandson.