Teach Children To Be Good Decision Makers


By Dr. A. Lynn Scoresby –Moral Development of Teenagers

Somewhere and somehow, current generation parents have learned that asking young children to make choices is a good way to limit their frustration and increase their compliance. So, when children are asked to “come and eat,” or told,” it is time to go to bed,” they will be given a choice to get them to do what parents want without an emotional episode. To avoid that, a mother might say, ” would you like to eat right now, or eat in five minutes?” assuming that the child will in fact do what he or she chooses. Or, a parent might say at bedtime, “do you want to read a story or put your pajamas on first?” There are times when asking the child to make a choice is a good strategy and may lead to compliance. It is also true that if we actively teach children they have a choice in most things, they may begin to feel that no one can tell them what they should do and they will develop feelings of entitlement and actually begin to resist parents at other times. The problem is, however, that if we don’t teach children to choose and instead exert excessive control, they may be unable to manage their lives, become angry and resentful, and the outcomes will be undesirable. But, this is not the whole story.

There are three other things I believe parents should think about.

(1) There are sometimes when children will need to be told what to do and they should obey. These are times when there are no choices other than to do what they are asked or not. For instance, if children want to do something that will harm them, if they want to do something which is reckless, or when they are in danger we would not want them to deliberate about the options. How do we teach children when those times are and that they should trust and respect their parents enough to do exactly what they are asked to do?

(2) Most parents hope their children will learn that consequences for themselves or for others will almost always follow their decisions. How to we ensure that children learn this vital lesson?

(3) We want children to mature and become independent. How do we use decision making to ensure they improve their abilities to make decisions, have confidence in their decisions, and at the right time move out and away from us and live their own lives?


Let’s suppose there is an answer for these questions. It will include the idea that decision making is a critical skill and we can and should teach our children how to be good decision makers. In addition, we need to add a lot of communication with our children so we can teach them about all aspects of making decisions including:

(1) identifying what the decision is that needs to be made,

(2) gathering information about it,

(3) considering the options and the potential consequences for each,

(4) selecting the best option or one that feels the best, and

(5) carrying out the decision.

By teaching this or other fairly simple methods of making a decision we can also teach variations. For instance, we can teach our children about different decision making times, tell our children when they can decide and when they cannot, and help them make that adjustment. If we start when they are fairly young we can help them understand the idea of consequences and learn to consider those before they choose and decide. We can also understand the sequence of letting our children make small choices while we make big ones for them. This can be followed when they are older by forming partnerships and making decisions together with them. Then, later, we can help them learn to make their decisions on their own. We will be confident in their abilities and can be less anxious abut them because we will have taught them to be good decision makers.


Lynn Scoresby is a child and family psychologist and a contributing author for First Answers online courses.

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