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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions. by Gregory Bland

Sep 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Parenting

“Dad, are you trying to help me be a better decision maker?” my son’s eyes peered across the boat cover as we snapped it back into place.
Smiling back I responded, “Yes, as a matter of fact I am, would you like to know the reason?”
“Yeah, that’d be great Dad.”
“Well, Josh, all throughout your life you will be faced with decisions, many small ones and some really big ones.”
“Like who I will marry when I get older, right!?”
Laughing, “Yes, that is one of the big decisions you will face in life.  But before you face that one, which is many, MANY years away, Mommy and Daddy simply want to help you become the best decision maker you can be.  That way, when you are out on your own, you will know what it is like to make decisions and even have experienced the consequences of some decisions.  You’re a very smart young man to pick up on the fact we are trying to help you become a better decision maker!”
“Thanks Dad.”

Decision making and experiencing the consequences of our decisions, good or bad, is an important and natural part of life.   As our children approach and begin entering their teen years, what many consider the most difficult stage of life, we want them to do so with as much experience in decision making as possible.  In this way, when our children face some of the more difficult decisions that teenage years will present, they will have experience from which to draw.    It would be unrealistic for me to expect my teen to make good decisions if I hadn’t given them the opportunity to ‘practice’ making decisions throughout childhood.  Decision making, like anything else, is learned through practice.

When we look at pro-actively preparing our children, keep in mind that our responsibility as parents is to protect them from harm, not shelter them from all pain.  Pain experienced from the consequences of decisions are incredible teaching tools that will do more in transforming our children than any ‘warning, teaching, or admonishment’ we can give.

Principles for helping our children develop their decision making ability.
1.  Think stepping stones. Our goal is to see our children become great decision makers, but they will not begin that way.  Each decision our child makes builds upon their ability to make decisions and carry responsibility.  In order to become a great decision maker they have to begin with smaller decisions and as they mature, they will naturally begin handling the more complex decisions with greater ease.

2. Give permission and opportunity to make decisions. Life is full of decisions and as parents we can leverage common experiences to foster growth in decision making.  For example, “I’d really like to go with you and Mommy to the mall, but I’d also like to stay with my sisters.”  Rather than making the decision for our child, we’d say something like this, “Well, those are both great things to do, and whichever you choose will be fine with us.”  Opportunities to let our children make decisions are all around us.

3.  Offer options for your child to choose between. If you’re child has not yet matured to the place they can ‘create options’ on their own, you can offer options for them to choose between.  This will provide them an opportunity for growing in their decision making ability.
For example,
* you could ___________ or _____________, which would you prefer?
* Would you rather ______________ or _____________.
* You’re welcome to _________ or __________.
*  In this situation you could  ____________ or _____________ or, is there something else that comes to mind?  (the ‘something else’ allows them the freedom to add to the options if they think of some.)

When creating options for our children to choose between, it’s important to ensure the foreseen consequences are something we can personally live with and are willing to allow them to experience.  For instance, I don’t give them a choice between something I like and don’t like, or something that is safe and the other life threatening.  For example, “You could play in the yard or the road, which do you prefer?”  I’m hoping they say yard, but . . . . with my children there is a strong possibility they might say road.

4.  Refuse the temptation to take responsibility from them by making their decisions for them.
At first this may seem awkward for the child, especially if they have grown used to being ‘told’ what to do, and having their decisions made for them.  This practice requires patience and discipline on the part of parents to prevent our children from reverting back to ‘just tell me what to do and I’ll do that.’
At some point within our child’s life they will begin to resent us if we continue to tell them what and how to do things.  To develop healthily, they need the freedom to choose and experience the consequences of those decisions.  Further, if we continue to take responsibility from them, by making their decisions, telling them what to do, and offering our opinion, when things don’t work out as they prefer, who will receive the blame?  We will.

Statements that help you keep responsibility with your child.
* Those are both great options, which will you choose?
* Which would you prefer?
*What is your decision?
* Which do you choose?
* It’s up to you, what would you like to do?
*It’s really your choice and I don’t want to take that from you.
*It’s your responsibility and I won’t take that away from you, go ahead it’s ok to choose.    As parents we have the experience and wisdom to foresee potential pain that will result from decisions our children will make.   Within our heart we truly desire what is best for our child, and although well meaning, we sometimes shelter them from transformational learning experiences that pain would offer.   Controlled pain is a great teacher!  For instance, take into consideration the following story of a friend.

5.  Allow them to experience the pain associated with their decisions. As parents we have the experience and wisdom to foresee potential pain that will result from decisions our children will make.   Within our heart we truly desire what is best for our child, and although well meaning, we sometimes shelter them from transformational learning experiences that pain would offer.   Controlled pain is a great teacher!  For instance, take into consideration the following story of a friend.

One of my children tends to be a procrastinator, leaving chores, school work, and various other responsibilities until the very last moment.  I would constantly be on them, reminding them, and even doing some of their work myself to ensure they ‘succeeded’ at meeting their deadlines.   Then it dawned on me, I am creating an unhealthy dependency upon myself here, and not teaching them to take responsibility for their life.  With this new found ‘revelation’ I resolved to break the cycle.  Sitting down with our family I first apologized for not honoring their maturity and ability to carry responsibility, and committed to not stepping across that line any longer.  I set a new course of action.  As a family, we decided to meet regularly and talk about responsibilities, expectations and school assignment deadlines.  Instead of sitting down and telling him when things needed to be done, I began coaching, having him develop his own action plan.  Followed up with a simple affirmation, “This is your responsibility and I commit to honoring you by allowing you to carry it without my interference.”

This, by far, was one of the hardest things I had to do.  As I watched his school work being neglected, everything inside of me screamed out,  ‘get on top of this’,  ‘rescue,’ ‘save,’ ‘nag,’ ‘help!’  But, as hard as it was, I managed to control myself, believing that in the end this was much better at helping them learn responsibility than my harping at him.  I watched as one school assignment deadline passed, then two.  My stomach churned inside of me, I knew the work wasn’t completed and waited.  Within a short time he was confronted by his teacher and he had to give an ‘account.’  It was interesting to watch as he scrambled to salvage some marks by passing in poorly researched assignments.

You know, not rescuing my child in that situation was very tough for me and a discipline I am still working on.  But I have noticed a significant change because of it, my child has stepped up and taken responsibility, knowing that I am not going to ‘bail’ them out.

6.  Engage them in evaluation.
After the decision is made and the course of action set, learning is not complete.  Coaching provides accountability and evaluation, always providing follow up to leverage the experience for deeper learning and long term impact.  Be warned, this is an opportunity to encourage and foster greater responsibility, not an opportunity to say, “I told you it wouldn’t work out well.”  Or, “See, if I leave you to yourself, it doesn’t get done.”

Intentionally setting time aside for evaluation assists our children in engaging their experiences, both positive and negative, for greater personal growth.   It gives us an opportunity to celebrate, and naturally increase their responsibility, and help them process failure in a healthy matter as a natural part of the growth process.  With failure in particular we have an incredible opportunity to instill the value that failure is a part of learning and growing in maturity.  They may have failed at accomplishing something, but they are not a failure!

For example,

*  Let’s talk about ____________ a little bit.  Tell me what happened.
*  What thoughts have you had about it?
*  If you were to approach _______________ situation again, what would you do?
*  What one step can you take that will better help you with ______________?
*  What did you learn from that experience?
*  How does that impact your decision making for the future?

As our children practice and hone their decision making skills, they will be better equipped to handle decisions they encounter throughout their teen years, adult life, and yes, when they face the  ‘big question’ of marriage, they will be better prepared for that one too!

Your friend and pro-active parent coach.

*Gregory and Lynn Bland currently reside in Nova Scotia, Canada and are actively coaching, writing a parenting book and developing a course to train parents in Pro-ActiveParentCoaching.  Additionally they are providing interim pastoring for the Maritime District of the PAOC.  For more information check out Pro-ActiveParentCoaching or write to

Copyright 2010 Gregory Bland | Pro-ActiveParentCoaching | Nova Scotia | Canada |

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