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Decision making for children: Not an easy task

Parents and Decisions
Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Saban Brands

Have you ever found that when you give your child the option of a great deal of choices, they have a problem making a decision? Let's visit my life for a minute over the past week to demonstrate what I am talking about. In the morning while my daughter is getting dressed, I simply say "Darling which shoes do you want to wear with that outfit today?" I then tell her to go over to her shoe rack and pick out a pair of shoes. She stands in front of the shoes for about 3 minutes that feels like forever and finally says, "You choose mommy. I can't decide." Even my 9-year old son says, "Mom I do not like making decisions." You are probably wondering if my children's responses to decision making falls within the "normal " range of development. The answer is "absolutely."

Decision making is crucial because the decisions your children make dictate the path that their lives take,” writes psychologist Jim Taylor, Ph.D., in Psychology Today. “They need to judge the risks and rewards of their decisions in the short run and the long term.”Children between the ages of 4 and 10, find it extremely difficult to make decisions for themselves. Your child's ability to make their own decisions is crucial to their latter development. Helping and teaching your child to make their own decisions provides them with a sense of self worth. When a child makes a positive decision based on their own thoughts, they can feel pure satisfaction because it was their own choice. Likewise, when a child makes a not so positive decision on their own, he or she can learn from that choice and try to make a better one next time. It is also a part of a child's job to sometimes to make stupid decisions that we as parents may not agree with. These decisions however are a part of helping them gain maturity.

It is not always easy to encourage your child to make their own decisions . This is very true. Children still need guidance and help to make decisions based on their age, but you can begin to teach early decision making skills over time in small increments. The best way to help a child make a decision is providing him or her with choices. For example, you wouldn’t tell your children they can have any candy they want in a convenience store. They would be overwhelmed with the choices and paralyzed with indecision, or they would want everything in the store. What you would do is give them a choice among jawbreakers, licorice, and bubble gum and they would then decide which treat they want. By limiting their choices, children tend to feel more in control of their decision making.

Here are some important tips to help your child learn to make positive decisions for themselves:

1. Talk it Over
When a child is struggling to make a choice or a decision, be a sounding board. Explore the different possibilities and consequences of their choices. Children still look to their parents for guidance. Just make sure that you are giving the child a "voice" in his or her decision.

2. Model your Decision Making Skills
Being a positive role model for decision making is important. Remember that your children are watching and observing everything that you do. They are watching to see if you are decisive or indecisive. When you are trying to make a decision about buying something, sit them down with you and let them go through the process with you. Teach them how to explore options and come to a decision.

3. Limit the Options and Practice Making Choices

Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., a child psychologist and author of Freeing Your Child From Anxiety tells us that research shows that if we have too many choices, we get overwhelmed because we don't want to reject too many things. Help your child to narrow down the choices to a few and then let your child pick. Kids need experience becoming good decision makers, so practice helps.

4. Do Not Encourage All Decisions
Healthy decision making requires parents to know they are the ones in power. Remember, you have the right to veto any decision that you believe will cause negative consequences for your child.

Dr. Sue

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