April 28, 2007

Getting Children to Adjust Their Behavior #6

"You have a choice to make; what are you going to do?"

Decision-making should be started as early as possible. "Which pair of socks do you want to wear?" “Do you want a red Popsicle or a green one?” “Do you want to play this game or that one?” “Which shirt do you want to wear, the red one or the blue one with the collar?”

Everyday Opportunities to Teach

Every day there are opportunities to give children decisions to make. Give them a chance. I am not talking about decisions that involve danger or decisions that can result in bad outcomes. Just give them everyday decisions.
A Tale of Two Families

The other day I watched two families getting on the airplane that I was riding. As I followed one family on board they had given their three-year-old the tickets and asked her to find their seats. The little girl could easily recognize the letters and numbers on the tickets. The Mom just showed her where the seat numbers were on the bottom of the overhead bins and asked the girl to find their seats.

A few moments later a family followed them into the plane with two teen-age children. In this case the overly controlling mother held the tickets and was rather rudely directing the children to their seats and was giving them no credit for being able to make any decisions.

It was not surprising to me to see that the first family was having no trouble with their children while the second family was having some pretty good arguments about who would sit where! The one family was letting their children get experience in making simple decisions and it was reaping rewards and the other mother was making all of the decisions and was having trouble with her children.

Now, I know that this was not a controlled study and there were lots of other variables at play but I feel quite certain that the dynamic of the parents giving decisions to the children played a part!

Give Your Children Opportunities to Choose

Give children decisions to make! If your children are older and you have not already made this one of your common tasks in your home start today. If you have young ones, start now. The key is to give your children the gift of allowing them to progressively make more and more critical decisions every day.

Learn from What Works!

We can learn by looking at how almost every person in America has learned to ride a bicycle. We have taught almost every single person in America to ride a bike! Probably, none of them learned how to ride a bike by listening to their parents talk about riding bikes or by watching their parents ride one. They learned when someone put them on the seat, put the handlebars in their hands and gave them a shove!

Now, most parents did not just shove the kid and let them just fall over. Most parents ran along side helping to steady the child. But the point is that children learn to ride bikes when someone lets them ride one!

Children Learn to Make Decisions by Making Them!

Children will learn to make good decisions when someone gives them some decisions to make. Just like teaching a child to ride a bike, we do not start with the most difficult decisions. We can start out with some simple decisions and build up to bigger and bigger decisions.

Start Small, then Build Toward Larger and Larger Decisions

Continually hand them bigger and bigger decisions to make. "Here's the map. Which route do you think we should we take?" Next time ask, "Now that you have picked the road to travel what time should we leave?"

Later, seek their advice on tough personnel issues you bring home from work. Spell out the situation and ask their opinion. You do not have to take their advice but the discussion tells them that they are important enough to be included! The simple fact that you asked will give the children a sense of their own value. They might have some great ideas too!

At another time, give them $50.00 and ask them to buy five days worth of groceries with it. Follow with bigger and bigger jobs and bigger and bigger decisions that go with them. Give them real decisions to make and live with their decisions.

Continually ask for their opinion about issues that surround you in life. You might be totally surprised at the great advice and point of view that your children bring to many a decision making process.

Learning by Doing

We learn to make good decisions by making them. It's the same example you heard earlier, "Put them back on the bike!" When they make a bad decision, don't punish them. Tell them you admire their courage for making the decision in the first place! Then ask, "What did you learn from that decision? What are you going to do the next time? How do you think that will work?"

Good Decisions often Come From the Experience of Bad Ones

Many of life’s great decisions come from learning from some earlier decisions that did not work out exactly as anticipated. Give your children the opportunity to make some decisions even if they may seem like bad decisions from time to time. They need the experience. They will learn from those bad decisions!

Then when they get to the big decisions in life they will not cower away from making a decision! Most likely they will make a great decision because they have experience in making decisions!

Obviously, we parents should not offer children decisions to make that might have them being hurt or damaged. That is our job, to protect our children and to act as an occasional filter to prevent a calamity. However, by giving them decisions to make that are easily within their experience and capability level, they will gradually learn… sooo… when the big decisions come along, the experience of other decisions will serve them well.

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