The older your child gets, the more choices that he or she is going to have to make. This means that you need to be prepared to teach him how he can make the best possible choices for himself.
There are two things that a child needs if she wants to be able to make a choice. One of these is that she must be able to think about the situation critically and think through to the outcome and consequences of the different options. The other is that she needs to have enough self-confidence so she can follow through with the decision she makes, even if it is an unpopular one in a group setting.
For this post, we are concentrating on younger children (before the teenage years). Depending on the age of your child, there are different values that you can teach about making good choices.
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Children Aged 2 ½ – 5
This is the perfect time to introduce the idea of making choices to your child. Allow your child to make age-appropriate choices. Pick out two outfits in the morning and allow her to choose which one she wants to wear. In addition to this choice, you can allow your child to make choices at snack or lunch time by offering two options. You need to be the one to provide the choices to ensure that your child eats a healthy meal or snack.
Things to Focus On
- Teaching your child how to make a simple decision.
- Allowing your child to pick between two items that you choose.
- Allowing your child to pick between two items for something that concerns the whole family.
Children Aged 5 – 9
One of the main things that will help your five to nine year old is watching you make choices. Next you will want to talk to your child about the difference between a good choice and a bad choice. The main definitive answers that he should understand are that good choices equal good things and positive outcomes while bad choices equal bad things or negative outcomes.
However, your child should also be made aware that making a good choice is not going to harm anyone else, is going to make them feel happy about themselves, and follows the rules.
During this time your child is going to experiment with making choices that are not good. It is important that you be consistent in how you deal with negative choices and that you allow your child to suffer the consequences that are appropriate for their age.
Talk to your child when they make a bad decision. Ask why that was not a good decision, alternatives for the decision, and what a better choice would have been.
Things to Focus On
- Helping your child to learn how to control himself/herself.
- Asking your child questions rather than instructing your child to do something.
- Allowing your child to deal with consequences from a poor choice.
- Allowing your child to make a poor choice.
- Showing your child compassion when he/she makes a negative choice, but still allowing him/her to suffer with negative consequences.
Child Aged 9 – 13
Your child is going to have a need to feel needed at this age. It is important that she knows that she has a role and that her role is important to the function of a group or family. This is one way to make sure that your child wants to make the right choices in life.
Offering your child a chore that makes him feel needed can help with learning the difference in feeling needed for the greater good of someone or something else.
Tell your child the truth about situations and take the time to talk to or explain different circumstances to him. Even if these are hard topics to discuss, it is better to let your child know the truth than for her to feel like you were not honest.
Look at your child’s friends and encourage her to become friends with other children who are smart and responsible. If your child has a good friend who is making good choices, then it is 50% more likely that he will make good choices.
Also, continue talking to your child about the negative consequences of making a bad choice. Being more open with your child about your own bad choices at her age will help you to have a more open line of communication with her.
Things to Focus On
- Allowing your child to be responsible for something or someone that depends on him/her.
- Establishing boundaries for behaviors.
- Telling the truth to your child about things that might harm him/her like teenage sex, alcohol, and drugs.
- Encouraging your child to have positive friendships.
All children have to learn at one time or another how to make decisions. Working with your child will help him learn about the benefits of positive decision making. And having this worked out before the teenage years will make those years more manageable.
If you would like more information, here are some resources that may help.
You Can Stay in Control: Wild or Calm? by Connie Colwell Miller
A Girl’s Guide to Making Really Good Choices by Elizabeth George
A Boy’s Guide to Making Really Good Choices by Jim George