Teach Children to Make Good Choices
Sometimes, it is easier to tell children what to do than it is to guide them in making a choice. However, this creates teens and young adults who fail to make good choices, because they have always depended on others to make decisions for them.
There are so many things children cannot control in life: where they attend school, the people in their families, and the financial circumstances of their homes. However, there are many choices they can make if the adults in their lives will allow them to do so. A child who is taught in the early years of life to make simple choices will have a much easier time making good choices as a teen or an adult. Children need to practice making choices throughout childhood, experiencing the consequences of wrong choices and enjoying the self-esteem that comes from experiencing the results of good choices.
Why Do We Teach Children to Make Good Decisions?
- Decision-making creates a sense of responsibility. The choice of cereal, the shirt or blouse to wear, the socks, the shoes, the flavor of toothpaste, the book or puzzle to use, the colors to use—these seem like simple choices. However, some children never get to make them. When a child has the opportunity to make choices, it creates a sense of self-worth and responsibility for oneself.
- Decision-making creates a sense of independence. As children develop, they quickly reach the “Me do it” stage. I can use that glue bottle. I can use that paint. I want to tape the picture in place. I want to pour the milk. I want to pass the cookies. I want to choose my clothes. I want to choose my music or TV program. This is healthy and leads to an independent spirit. Sometimes, this spirit needs to be curtailed, if children want to do something that would harm or injure them. In most cases, children need to be allowed to try new things and use their emerging skills. Make a game out of duties you want the child to do, such as putting away supplies or toys. Children are more likely to choose an option that is fun.
- Decision- making creates a sense of confidence. Children who have always depended on others to make decisions will find if difficult to make decisions when away from home or school. These children may be swayed easily by others to make the wrong decision. Affirm children who make right choices and build their confidence for making future decisions.
- Decision-making leads to better behavior. Children behave better when they have more than one option from which to choose. Even adults rebel when they are forced to do something for which they lack skills or interest. Provide options for children and let them experience the results of their choices.
How Do You Teach Children to Make Good Decisions?
- Start when children are very young and let them make age-appropriate decisions from several options. “Which of these two healthy snacks would you like?” “Which of these puzzles would you like to use?”
- Support the child’s decision even if it is not what you would do. If a child wants to color the bananas with a purple crayon, that is fine. If a child wants to pair stripes and plaids for everyday clothes, that is fine. Affirm the child’s decision as long as it is appropriate.
- As children mature, give them more opportunities to make choices from options. Let them choose the object to take for “Show and Tell.” Let them choose an activity for the family to do on Saturday afternoon. Let the children decide in at church whether to do a project in pairs or small groups. Let the children decide if a story response will be drawn or written. Let the children decide whether they will have 3, 4, or 5 play practices. (Guess what they will choose!)
- Give children an opportunity to discuss all the options and consequences of a decision before making the decision. If a child observes another child doing something wrong, use this to help the child think about all the options the other child had in making the choice and all the possible consequences of that choice. Help a child to realize there are options to almost any choice and there are always consequences for a choice. Choices at church: Decide which of two Bible verses to memorize. Decide on a part to play in a drama (rather than assigning parts). Let the class vote on a service project for the class. Decide from options how to review the Bible story.
- Let the children experience the consequences of their choices. When the results are good, affirm the children and let them know the choice was a good one. When the results are not good, make it a teachable moment. Help the children realize what the other options were and the possible results of those options. Protecting children from consequences is detrimental to their social and psychological growth. Help children experience consequences, but let them know you love and support them.
- Provide moral standards for the children. Help them know what is right and what is wrong. Let children know what God expects from them. Keep in mind the child’s stage of development and ability to reason. Use Bible stories to show what great things can happen in a person’s life if he or she makes decisions that honor God.
Every adult who works with children wants them to grow to be responsible adults who love God and do what is right. Allowing children to make decisions and experience the results will guide them toward being confident and responsible adults.
Contributed by Beula Postlewait, Children’s Ministries Executive Coordinator