Learning to separate right from wrong can be tricky for kids — and it’s an equally tricky concept to teach. While it’s a challenge, it’s up to us as parents to help our kids do the right thing. So today, we are giving you tips and tricks to help you teach your children to make good decisions.
How To Teach Your Kids To Make Good Decisions
Teaching kids right from wrong is a process that can take years. As a parent, we serve as guides, offering clues to help them make their own choices. Below is a list of ideas (and supporting research) that can help you get the kids on the right track:
It is a common misconception that you need to wait until your kids are intellectually advanced before teaching them to make well-thought-out decisions. In fact, starting in the toddler years will help them have the decision-making process down by the time they enter their tweens.
Even toddlers can start learning about responsibility and support with simple chores, like picking up toys or setting placemats. Keep chores positive with motivating, encouraging statements to link helpful acts with positivity.
Practice What You Preach
It can be hard to teach kids right from wrong if we are constantly contradicting our words. An easy example of this would be food choices. As adults, we know that junk food isn’t good for us, and we encourage the kids to eat ample amounts of healthy food. However, we can’t tell them to eat an apple if we are reaching for a bag of chips for ourselves. If we yell at another driver for cutting us off, it can be harder to stress the importance of getting along with peers.
So, while you’re making a choice, think out loud. Involve them in your reasoning and why you ultimately chose what you did. That way, your kids can understand the process that led you to your decision.
Give Guidance and Advice Along the Way
Allowing our children to make decisions doesn’t mean we don’t offer guidance and advice along the way. Instead of taking over and choosing for your kids, give them examples of real-world scenarios and converse about what you would do in those situations. What would you do and why?
Together, you can hypothesize about what might happen from the result of those choices. Review the implication and the impact as a family. Ultimately, your kids will still get the final say as to what their decision may be, but you are helping them put the choices into better focus.
Give Them Space To Choose
As kids get more independence to make choices, it may take a while for them to decide what they want to do in their day-to-day lives. Kids may also sometimes make a decision you don’t always agree with. Still, they need space to make choices and understand the full scope of what it means to make a good or bad decision.
So, when you feel they are more capable of making choices, start small — really small. Let your kids pick between a few shirts or which socks they like best. Then, they can decide on their favorite ice cream flavor or toppings. The first decisions they make on their own don’t have to be big, life-changing choices. Let your kids work up to the big stuff.
Decisions Get Bigger With Age
As we age, our decisions become bigger and more impactful. While your kids may realize that life is getting harder, they might not fully understand why this is happening.
Instead of letting them figure this out alone, help them keep a level head. Talk through what is causing the issue or stress about decisions and choices and why this could be happening.
For instance, if your child spends hours studying but doesn’t seem to get enough accomplished, ask them to examine their studying process and find the weak links. Maybe they are stopping to get a drink or a snack halfway through, but they were hungry from the beginning.
Instead, propose a plan of hydrating and eating before starting to see if anything changes. Maybe you don’t necessarily make this choice, but ask them what they think could be causing the delay in finishing assignments and help them find clues as to what’s going wrong.
Let Them Learn From Bad Decisions
This is a tough one. As parents, we never want our kids to suffer from the consequences of a bad decision. However, sometimes, they have to learn the hard way, just like we do from time to time.
Aside from decisions that could seriously impact their lives, you can allow your kids to make choices that don’t result in the outcome they were hoping for. It may hurt your heart a little to see them disappointed in the consequences of their decision-making, but it’s for the best.
When we make decisions too quickly or without weighing all the options, we don’t always see that the decision we lean towards isn’t the right one. When this happens, we may end up upset or frustrated with the end result. However, these experiences give us an example to follow next time, and we become more careful with our choices in the future.
“Learn from your mistakes and do better next time” isn’t only a soothing statement — it’s backed by scientific evidence. A 2018 study found that people who made errors while studying actually did better in the future.
Prioritize the Process
Learning to make wise decisions is hard work, and kids may get frustrated and discouraged with the growth and process. Instead of taking over for them as they want, set them up to make the right choices.
Eventually, they will be adults that will need to make choices for themselves, and if they aren’t prepared for this, things like moving on to college, work, and more complex social situations will be a struggle. However, when empowered to make decisions in childhood, people tend to show more advanced emotional regulation skills and have an easier time interacting with their peers.
Defining Good Decisions
While we might be prepared to help our kiddos make decisions, what exactly does that mean? This concept can be hard to define, but good decisions are traditionally choices that don't negatively impact your present or future (or anyone else’s).
They may not always be the easier choice or the most desirable. Nevertheless, good choices are going to prove more favorable in the end.
Focus on the Process, Not the Choice
One critical aspect to remember about making good decisions is that you need to focus on the decision-making process, not the specific choice. That means that while you will need your kid to choose when faced with a decision, the emphasis needs to be on the process. This way, they get there faster and with less difficulty in the future.
Learning how to weigh options, outcomes, or pros and cons will take time to learn but will get easier the more you’re obligated to make a decision. So, even if it’s a painstaking process at first, focus on creating a rhythm and routine, not just getting to a decision.
4 Ways To Encourage Children To Make Good Decisions
One wonderful lesson your kids will learn as they grow is how decisions affect those around them and why it’s important to make kind choices. Here are four ways or strategies to help your child work on their decision-making process:
1. Play Strategy Games
Playing games that require strategic thinking, like dominoes or Monopoly, can help your child understand the critical thinking steps associated with making a wise decision. The outcome will be direct. Either their choice will prove successful or detrimental to the game, so they will have to work hard to figure out what to do.
2. Ask This or That
A game of “would you rather” or “this or that” is perfect for a long car ride or a moment of boredom in the day. You can ask your kids if they would rather fly or have lightning speed, be able to breathe fire or ice, or any combination that will require them to weigh options against each other.
Prompt your child to think through what each choice will mean for them and the people around them, then allow them to decide. It’ll be fun — but it can also help them gain tools for making real and hard decisions in the future.
3. Play Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is a fantastic way to help your child learn how to weigh options fast and learn how to think quickly on their feet. It’s a simple game with major benefits to your child’s decision-making process. Hide and seek forces them to scan the area, assess in a matter of moments, and go with their choice.
It may not always prove fruitful, as some hiding spots are better than others, but thinking quickly and a few steps ahead will benefit their cognitive development.
4. Tell Interactive Stories
Bedtime is best suited for calming activities. High-energy board games and activities are better for the daytime. Before turning the lights off, close out the night with a valuable lesson, and tell a few interactive stories. In interactive stories, the storyteller (you) relays a general tale but stops at critical moments for the listener (your child) to make a decision on behalf of the main character. You can either draft up loose notes ahead of time or make the narrative up as you go.
Much like imaginative play, making choices with no real-world consequences is a wonderful way for children to exercise their problem-solving abilities in a safe environment.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
We are confident that these tips and tricks are sure to get you and your kids on the right path to successful and good decision-making. But no matter where you are on that road, remember that it’s a marathon and not a sprint.
Learning how to make good decisions takes time and a lot of work, so allow your kids the grace of trial and error and keep a positive attitude along the way.
- What Is a “Good” Decision? | Psychology Today
- Critical Thinking For Kids | ParentingForBrain
- Household chores for kids | Raising Children Network
- Making mistakes while studying actually helps you learn better | ScienceDaily
- Helicopter parenting may negatively affect children’s emotional well-being, behavior | APA