Like adults, children make a range of decisions every day!
Young children regularly choose how they will behave, which toys or games they would like to play with, which books they would like to have read to them, or which television shows they would like to watch.
As they get older, children make bigger decisions that often involve their family, their friends and their schoolwork.
The kinds of decisions children make affect their mental health and wellbeing, their relationships and their success.
Learning to make good decisions helps children become more independent and responsible.
How children’s decision-making skills develop
Children learn good decision-making skills gradually and are strongly influenced by the expectations and values they learn from those around them.
This occurs through observing others (particularly their parents and carers), hearing about and discussing values, and having opportunities to make decisions and experience the consequences.
The key skills children need to develop for decision making are:
- identifying when a decision needs to be made
- thinking of possible options
- evaluating the options, and choosing strategies for making the decision and reviewing how it works.
Learning to consider the situation carefully and weigh up the options before coming to a decision helps children make better decisions.
It also helps them to understand and take into account others’ views when making decisions that affect them.
Here’s five ways to help develop children develop good decision-making skills
Parents and carers can help children learn how to make good decisions by effectively guiding and supporting them as they practise.
1. Allow children to practise making choices
Giving children opportunities to make choices helps to build their sense of responsibility, as well as their decision-making skills. It is important that the choice really is theirs, so provide options that you will be happy with no matter which they choose. Showing interest in their choice helps to reinforce that you see their decisions as important.
2. Talk about everyday decisions
Involve children in your own decision-making. For example, you might say, “I’m trying to decide whether to take up a sport to get ﬁt or go to a dance class. Which do you think I should do?” Talk through the advantages and disadvantages of each suggestion so your child can learn how to thoughtfully evaluate different options.
3. Support children to use decision-making steps
As children develop their skills for thinking through decisions, teach them these steps of decision-making and show them how to use them effectively:
- identify the decision to be made
- think of options
- evaluate the options and choose the best one
- put your choice into action and check how it works.
4. Ask questions that promote thoughtful decisions
Asking open-ended questions that prompt children to think through their reasons for choosing a particular option helps them learn how to evaluate options and think through consequences. Some good questions include, “What do you like about that?”, “What makes this the best option?”, “How would this work?”
5. Encourage children to set achievable goals
Setting their own goals to work towards encourages children to plan and think ahead. It helps them understand the link between making decisions and taking action.
It is important that the goals set are achievable and motivating for the child. In addition, the steps needed to reach goals need to be deﬁnite, clear and small enough for the child to manage. Providing praise and acknowledgment for small steps of progress supports children to meet their goals.
Appropriate goals for children to choose include developing a new skill (eg. learning to play chess, learning to swim), improving performance in school work or in an area of particular interest (eg. learning to play a particular piece of music, master a difﬁcult skill in sport), or earning pocket money to save for something special.
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