Most of us grew up with our parents making decisions for us, and I’m no exception. But when I became a parent, I wanted my children to learn how to make decisions. The question is, should they? What if they make a mistake? Are they even capable of making decisions? Don’t we have the responsibility to decide what is right for them? Here are my opinions as a parent and as a teacher.
Parents should allow children to make age-appropriate decisions because as they decide, they learn about the outcome of their choices, whether positive or negative. It builds confidence and teaches them to be independent. Children that are used to making decisions tend to have better critical thinking skills.
Over the years of teaching in various kindergartens and Sunday schools, I’ve learned that children of all ages are capable of making decisions. But first, they need to be allowed to make it. As you read on, I will teach you how to delegate appropriate decision-making to your child and when to make decisions for them.
You can apply the contents of this article to children between 2 to 6 years old, but you can start as early as 18 months.
Why you should encourage your child to make his own decisions
Over the years as a teacher, I’ve met many toddlers that cannot make decisions, even simple ones such as which picture do you want to draw? These children tend to be timid, indecisive, and cry more often. It takes more effort to help them gain confidence and learn decision-making skills, but it will be simpler if parents let them make decisions at home.
More confident children tend to be used to making decisions at home. That is why they are more comfortable expressing their feelings and opinions at school, and they are also bolder.
Allowing your child to make decisions is a great way to make him feel he is participating and contributing to something you’re doing. It will enable him to have a voice and the opportunity to share his opinions. Through different decision-making, he is learning from the result or consequences of his choices.
Let’s think about it. After making a good decision, wouldn’t you feel good? That sense of satisfaction can only come if you make the decision. That is how our children will feel too when they make a good choice! Children that make decisions have a greater sense of satisfaction.
If you want your child to have critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, let him make decisions. During the decision-making process, he considers the outcome of each choice, and if he does not like that outcome, he may choose the other option.
Remember that your child may not gain confidence or fast-track their learnings immediately. It takes time, but given many opportunities to make decisions, he can have a headstart over his peers.
When should children start making decisions?
As soon as a child can express themselves through gestures or speaking, they can start making decisions. Age-wise, a child can begin as early as 18 months old. The important thing is to give them age-appropriate decision-making choices. I will provide you with some examples throughout this article.
When you begin to allow your child to make decisions, don’t overwhelm him with too much decision-making. Start with only a few decision-making in a day and only small choices. They may be excited to make decisions, but they still do not know-how.
Keep things simple. If it becomes too difficult, he may feel that making decisions is complex and refuse to do it.
Examples of good and bad decision-making choices you can offer your child
When you ask your child to make a decision, the decisions he will make must be acceptable to you. If it is not acceptable, you will likely tell him why that’s a wrong decision and override it, which may confuse him and lower his confidence. Let me give you some examples of allowing him to decide on an acceptable or unacceptable outcome.
- It’s winter, and you want your child to make his own decision on what to wear. The proper way is only to let him choose among winter clothing. This way, no matter which clothes he chooses, it will be the right clothes to wear.
- Here’s another example. You have five choices of toys for your child to play with today, and you prefer that he doesn’t choose a toy that makes a mess. Make sure that all of the five toys do not create a mess, then whichever toy he chooses will be the right toy.
- Now let me give you an example of an unacceptable decision. You ask your son if he is willing to share his toys with his sister, and he says no. It’s normal for us to then try to convince him that he should share, how that makes him a good brother, and the many reasons why it’s good to be generous. The problem here is you’re asking him if he wants to share and hoping that he will share, don’t do that.
Remember that your child may not know how to make decisions yet, and he is learning how to make them. Don’t offer right or wrong choices, and then expect him to make the right decision. The options that he will make must be among the acceptable ones.
10 examples of good decisions for children to make
Here are ten examples of good decision choices that you can ask your child to make. As your child makes these decisions daily, they begin to grow more confident in their choices and will continue to benefit in the years to come.
If your child dislikes making decisions, these simple decision-making choices are an excellent way to start training them.
Decide on which toy to play
The Montessori method of having an open area and toys on each shelf is a great way for children to decide what toys they want to play with. If you’re interested to learn more about applying Montessori at home, I’ve written a detailed article here that can help you. Check it out.
Make sure that the toys available to him are toys that you will allow him to play with.
Decide on what clothes to wear
Asking your child to decide on what to wear can be a fun experience! Let him match his shirt, pants, and hat! He may choose clothing that doesn’t match at all. In this case, you may suggest that the colors don’t seem to fit and ask him if he is ok with it. If he thinks it’s ok, let him go ahead with it.
Don’t give comments such as “No! That’s too ugly!” or “Let’s wear this instead.” You may ask him if he thinks it’s ok? Or that you feel that the blue shirt might be a better choice? But if he insists on his choice, go with it. Through this conversation, he will also learn that there are different opinions among people. Refrain from rejecting his idea; rather, discuss with him and respect his decision.
Remember only to offer suitable clothes. If it’s winter, do not offer summer clothes. If it’s time to sleep, provide only pajamas.
Decide on what snack to have
Snack time is one of the children’s favorite times, and allowing them to decide what they want for a snack can be extremely rewarding. This is a great place to start if your child is weak in making decisions. Remember, only offer suitable snacks. If he has a cough, don’t offer chilled snacks. Please do not say no or try to change their minds after they have decided on what they want.
Decide which movie to watch
Asking which movie he wants to watch during TV time is another excellent example. But the challenge is this. What if he chooses a TV program that is not acceptable to you? Maybe it is too violent, and you don’t want him to choose it? Remember, don’t allow options and expect them to choose correctly.
If you use YouTube, the good idea is to make your own kid’s playlist and ask your child to choose from the playlist that you have pre-selected. If you’ve tried to create a YouTube kid’s playlist, you may have noticed that there’s no way to add a kids-friendly video to it! Thankfully there’s a solution. Check out this short video on how to do it.
Here’s another creative idea. You can make your TV program list on cardboard and ask him to pick a video from the cardboard. It’s a bit more troublesome because you will need to be there to switch the video, but it creates a fun interactive moment, and you can use it to congratulate him for making a good choice!
Decide on which book to read during storytime
The best place to start teaching decision-making for your child is which book to read during storytime because you can start this at a very young age. If your child is still very young, don’t offer too many options. Between two to three books is a great choice.
Decide on which utensils to use during mealtime
Each meal requires a different type of utensil. If the meal is soup, a spoon is needed. Don’t stop or correct him on the spot if he chooses a fork. Let him learn through experience that he cannot use a fork for soup. After struggling to drink from the fork, ask him if he wants to try another utensil, and he will have to decide if he wants to change or continue.
If he chooses to continue with the fork, be patient and allow him to continue with it. When he starts complaining, offer him the choice again. If he decides to change, let him choose which utensil to use next. Depending on his age, the next option is a spoon or between a knife and a spoon. He is learning how to make correct decisions through this.
Decide on which toy to take on a trip
I allow my children to choose one toy they wish to bring with them when we are on a short trip, such as going to the mall or their grandparent’s house. Since only one toy is allowed and it will be the only toy they will have for the duration, they learn to make decisions carefully.
Give this method a try because having a toy with them will keep them occupied and grant you much-needed peace when having a meal or tea outside. They learn to make decisions, and you get to enjoy.
Decide on which toy to bring to the playground
If you often bring your kid to the playground or out for a walk, one of the best decisions they can make is which toy to bring along. That giant brown ball? The baseball bat? A bicycle? He can decide and then have fun with the decision he has made. If he later realized that he didn’t like his decision, comfort him that he can make another decision tomorrow.
Decide on which place to visit for your family trip
When you’re going out for a family trip, let him decide where to go. The number of places to visit can be too many for your child to choose, so don’t tell him that you’ll bring him anywhere he decides to go. That’s too broad, too many options that can overwhelm him.
Give him limited options. Ask him if he wants to go to the botanic garden, the aquarium, or the zoo? By limiting to just three to five places, he won’t be overwhelmed and think that decision-making is such a tricky thing. These are just some examples. Offer them suitable choices that you can fulfill. Don’t offer to go to Disney Land if you have no intention of bringing him there.
Deciding on which topic to study
It’s not always playing. You can allow your child to decide on what he wants to study for the day too. Is it alphabets? Is it numbers? Is it animals? Or is it festivals? When they decide on what to learn, they can be more committed to it.
On the topic of studying about festivals. Some parents may not want their children to be involved in specific festivals, Halloween, for example. If that is the case, let them decide between Thanksgiving, Good Friday, or Christmas. They should choose only among options that are acceptable to you.
2 examples of poor decisions choices you should not ask your child to make
These are some poor decision choices that parents commonly ask their children to make without realizing it. I’m equally guilty of it, but we can learn to refrain from asking our children to make them.
Stop pushing your sister or I’m going to confiscate your toys
Your son keeps pushing his sister or playmate down when playing together. This is a very common situation, especially when your child does not like to play with others or plays with someone he doesn’t like. You offer him a choice.
- If you want to continue playing, stop pushing your sister.
- If you continue pushing your sister, I will confiscate your toys.
Let’s take a look at why this is a poor decision-making choice. The problem here is your son pushing his sister, and it has nothing to do with the toy. But to stop him from pushing his sister, you are threatening to confiscate his toys. The issue here is not that he has a problem with his toys but with his sister.
If he picks option 1, he will have to tolerate her. If he can’t, and you carry out your warning, he will blame his sister for his misery. Whichever option he picks, he will blame his sister for it because, from his point of view, his sister was the one that was disturbing him, and yet he was the one that was punished.
Another reason this is bad is that you must carry out what you said you would do. If you walk away and he pushes his sister without your knowledge, the consequence of his toys getting confiscated will not happen. He will begin to take your warnings lightly because you didn’t enforce the outcome, and he got away with it.
Here’s how you can offer him an excellent choice to solve the problem. “Sweety, your sister can disturb you because you’re playing on the floor, and she can reach your toys. Do you want to move to the table? She is not tall enough to reach your toys if you play there”.
I’ve used this method on both my kids, and it has been excellent! He has to decide to continue playing on the floor and getting disturbed or move to the table to play without interruption. My son will always choose to play at a place where his sister cannot reach him. Problem solved!
You will go to bed if you continue to cry
Many children do not like to sleep, and in this example, you’re asking your child to decide whether to continue crying or not. The issue here is that the consequence of crying is that he will have to sleep. You use sleep as a punishment because you know he doesn’t like to sleep, but this will enforce his dislike for sleep because sleep has become a punishment.
If you want to deal with his crying issue, don’t use something unrelated like sleep, in this case, as a punishment. Children do not cry for no reason, be there for him, calm him down, and ask him why he is crying. You may find some valuable information on what is troubling your child.
How do change your children’s decision
Your child may decide on something that you disagree with. There may be times when the decision is made outside of your control. Here are some methods you can apply to try to persuade them to choose differently.
Guide him towards the right decision by asking him questions. If you force the decision on him, he may reject it. But if the answer comes from himself, he will accept it.
How to change your child’s bullying behavior
In this scenario, your son bullies his sister. Here’s an opportunity to change his decision to bully by asking him questions.
Mom: Do you think Abbie is happy with what you’re doing?
Mom: If Abbie is sad, will you be happy?
Mom: If Abbie is sad, and you are sad, do you want to continue pushing her?
Mom: What do you think you can do instead?
Through a series of questions and answers, you can direct him to make a different decision. Children at this age are pure and innocent, they usually do not have ill intentions, and most will answer like that.
How to change your child’s desire to eat chocolates
Someone gives your son chocolates in this scenario, but you have a house rule that only permits one chocolate a day.
Mom: Are you sure you can eat that chocolate?
Mom: Do you remember that mommy said you can only have one chocolate a day?
Mom: Have you eaten chocolate today?
Mom: So, can you eat that chocolate now?
Mom: Alright, where do you want to keep the chocolate?
Because he decided not to eat chocolate, he will be more willing to let it go. For this to work, you must first enforce the rules at home, or else he cannot follow your trail of questions to make the right decision.
How to convince your child to brush his teeth
Sometimes, when my son wakes up, he will refuse to brush his teeth even though it is already a daily routine. Here’s how I convince him to brush his teeth.
Mom: Let’s go brush your teeth.
Son: I don’t want to brush my teeth!
Mom: Ok, do you want to change your clothes first or brush your teeth first?
Son: I want to change my clothes first.
Mom: Alright, now that you’ve changed your clothes, shall we go brush your teeth?
Whenever he refuses to brush his teeth, I will give him another option and ask which one he wants to do first. I only give him two choices. Brush your teeth or change or clothes first? And he will choose between the two. Because he decides to do it, he will end up brushing his teeth.
The scenario above just played out this morning at the day of my writing this article. It works every time!
Decisions that children should not make
While we want to cultivate our children’s skills in decision-making, you should know that there are certain decisions that they shouldn’t make because they are too young to make the right choice. Here are some examples.
- Do you want to go to school?
- Do you want to go to church?
- Do you want to do your homework?
- Do you want to take your meds?
- Do you want to brush your teeth?
Always practice decision-making within limits. Children in this age group do not know what is best for themselves and rely on you to ensure that their decision will not harm them.
You may have a lot of information to digest after reading all these examples, but don’t overstress yourself. It takes time, patience and persistence to push on. Please bookmark this page and come back when you need it. Decision-making within limits is safe and helpful to the growth of your children.
Invite them to participate in daily decision-making at home, and it will help build their thinking. They will have a sense of satisfaction, build confidence, and form their own opinions. They will be more independent as they grow up, learn from the right and wrong choices they make, and learn how to think and make better decisions.