Phil Jackson, former NBA player and current general manager of the New York Knicks wrote: “To my father, there were certain mysteries you could only understand with the heart, and intellectualizing about them was a waste of time. He accepted God on faith and lived his life accordingly. This was an important [childhood] lesson for me.”
While there’s trouble and suffering in the universe, it is friendly…
…and we can see evidence of God’s presence countless times every day.
If you want to foster a a child’s sense of security, consider sharing this perspective: God’s intention is for all human beings to live in community with God and then with each another. Our human frailties, not God’s, increase the selfishness and suffering in the world. God is trustworthy.
Help children identify sightings of God’s care
1. The rainbow
On the very day I signed divorce papers, I saw a rainbow in the clearing skies above our condominium (a rare occurrence in Southern California). With my kids in the back seat, I pointed it out. One of my sons said, “Dad, God is near us and we are going to be okay.”
2. God’s “hand” on my face
One mother told her children how her father would tuck her into bed at night and place his hand on her face, soothing her to sleep. She continued, “Now when I can’t get to sleep, I pray and ask God to lay his fatherly hand on my face, and I am able to sleep.”
3. A kind stranger
While shopping with her children, Heather made it to the check-out a bit frazzled. Back at the car her kids piled in, every grocery bag loaded, she slammed the door shut–when she realized she left her wallet in the store. She got out and started unbuckling her children when she saw a man running over to her:
“The cashier let me run this out to you,” he explained. During the ride home, she and her children talked about how the man left his own grocery cart and delayed his day to show kindness to people he didn’t even know. And how they could see God in that man’s actions.
Have fun hunting for sightings of God’s activity with children, in–
- People’s kindness to strangers
- Unexplained events
Tweetable: Sharing God’s intention for the universe may foster a child’s sense of security. And what is that? Click to Tweet
Set aside the natural tendency to lecture or say “I told you so” when a child makes a choice and finds out afterwards it wasn’t such a great one. Thinking about how the choices they make turn out in the end is an important part of decision-making.
Evaluating the results means that after all is said and done, kids stop and think about their choice:
- Was it a good one?
- Am I happy with the results?
- Would I do the same thing again in a similar situation?
Their answers to the questions above will direct us toward our next move:
- Celebrate the wise choices they made OR
- Learn good things from the unwise ones
Celebrate wise choices
Making wise choices is hard work, and children deserve to celebrate when they make one. They can:
- Tell someone in the family or text their best friend.
- Put a sign on their dog and parade him around the neighborhood.
- Write about it in their diary or journal.
- Hug somebody.
It’s especially important to celebrate when they chose to do something risky or new and it turned out well. Even if it was a little thing like cleaning their room without being told or not getting mad when they lost a game… don’t forget to celebrate!
Learn good things from unwise choices
Sometimes children realize they made a mistake. Making mistakes does not feel very comfortable, so they want to blame someone, throw a tantrum, withdraw and feel too ashamed to talk to anyone, or try to hide it by lying about it.
It is OK to say they made an unwise choice!
We can offer them the opportunity to talk about their choice and guide them to identify a more helpful choice for future situations. We’re looking to strengthen responses like these in the child:
- I didn’t make a very good choice that time. I’ll choose something different next time.
- Everyone makes mistakes once in a while.
- When you’re growing up, it takes time to learn how to make good decisions.
- Sometimes the only way we really learn is by making a choice and then finding out it wasn’t such a great one after all.
- I can ask for help because talking about my mistakes is the best way to learn from them.
These are grace-giving responses, and grace is a spiritual quality.
One of the greatest gifts we can give children is permission to make mistakes with the full assurance that we will not “go away” physically or emotionally. Grace is God’s way of giving us room to grow. It is the assurance that no matter what happens, all our imperfections are accepted. Grace is the antidote to shame, enabling us to see mistakes as opportunities to grow rather than opportunities for self-criticism.
The choices we make from day to day set the direction our lives will take.
The C.H.O.O.S.E. tool takes time and practice to become a skill. The steps will feel awkward and uncomfortable at first. But as you work through each step with the child, identifying options and choosing from among them becomes an automatic response to the situations they face each day.
Relax with it and have a good time together as you learn to C.H.O.O.S.E.!
(The CHOOSE tool was developed by my friend Linda Sibley, who is happy to share it.)
- A great opportunity to help kids make wise choices happens after the choice has been made. Here’s why. Click to Tweet
- The choices we make from day to day set the direction our lives will take. A simple teaching tool here. Click to Tweet
We’re at the midway point of the C.H.O.O.S.E tool, which builds willpower and gives children a sound decision-making process they can carry throughout their lifetime.
Deciding what to do–one choice to TRY
This is the point at which the child settles on one good option to TRY in the situation.
After working through the previous steps of the C.H.O.O.S.E. tool, the only options on the child’s list are the wise ones. Sometimes the best option emerges very quickly, and other times it takes a while and the child may have to try a few different options before one works.
At times, children may not want to try any of their options. Why not?
- Fear of failure
- Need for approval from parents or others (e.g. people-pleasing)
- Disconnection from their source of guidance
For example, if you believe they are afraid to fail, see if they want to revisit the brainstorming process until the child convinces himself he does indeed have enough information to make a choice.
Maybe the child can’t decide because she wants to choose an option she thinks will not please you. You can assure her you see her point of view and you are supportive of her choice no matter what the outcome.
Remember, the list contains only positive choices in the sense that unsafe choices or those with consequences that can’t be undone have already been deleted. Furthermore, you will be there to help the kids identify what they are learning from the choice and what they might want to do differently next time. This builds willpower.
Getting it right is not the point.
Rather, by taking time with the child to carefully think about each possibility, children can be increasingly confident of making the best choice they can–and move on.
The goal is the child’s growth in the ability to make a good choice based on careful evaluation of all the options.
- When a child is confused about making an important choice, take a closer look at these 3 hindrances. Click to Tweet
- Here’s some practical guidance when a child procrastinates in making a decision. Click to Tweet
3rd in a series about a valuable, simple tool for teaching kids decision-making. The tool is C.H.O.O.S.E. and today’s big idea is to know and follow moral principles. A kid’s morals become their treasure chest of wisdom and guidance.
A child’s treasure chest
A child’s treasures can include their most special toys, a ribbon or trophy won at a swim meet, photos of the most special people and times in their lives. Many of a child’s treasures wouldn’t bring very much money if sold, but they bring something much more valuable: reminders of the best parts of the child’s life. A child’s morals are treasures of great value.
Conversation Starter: A camping story for kids
Imagine you are in the woods camping with your family, having a great time. In fact, you are having so much fun you don’t realize you are wandering deeper and deeper into the woods. Suddenly, it’s dark and you realize you’re lost! Now it’s very dark and you can’t see anything! How do you feel? (scared, alone) After awhile, you look up and see a light coming toward you. You hear your dad calling your name! You go toward the light until you meet your parents, and all of you follow the path back to camp. Now how do you feel? (relieved, safe) You were safe because the light showed you where to go in the darkness!
Four ethical questions can be like a light to children when they’re making a decision:
- Will it hurt me or someone else? If your brainstorming list of options includes ones that will hurt you, cross them off. Same with an option to hurt someone else—hitting, telling lies about them, stealing their things. You can find other ways to deal with your decision.
- Is there something beyond my control? That’s a real important question, because many times the choice we want to make is not within our power. For example, if your parents are getting a divorce, your first choice would probably be to have them get back together. But that is a choice your parents must make and is completely beyond your control. As hard as it may be, you need to cross it off your list of choices.
- How does it feel inside? If a choice feels wrong, cross it off your list. Be careful, though. Some choices may feel uncomfortable, but deep down inside we know they are wise—like choosing to tell the truth instead of covering up with lie. That’s different from feeling uncomfortable because we know it’s wrong—like letting your friend talk you into shoplifting, or letting someone touch you in ways you don’t want to be touched.
- Who can help me choose? Keep a list of people you can talk to whenever you feel confused or just don’t know what to do. (Some kids may include prayer or religious teachings sources of help.)
(Linda Sibley designed the CHOOSE tool and she is excited I’m sharing it here.)
- A child’s morals are treasures of great value, especially when used to make decisions. Read more. Click to Tweet
- 4 moral questions kids can use when making a difficult choice. Read more. Click to Tweet
When’s the last time you heard a child say: I had to do that. I didn’t have any choice! or She made me do it! or I’m bored… there’s nothing to do. or It wasn’t my fault… he started it! Sometimes kids find themselves in situations in which they think they just don’t have any choices.
It might not seem so at first, but kids always have choices.
That’s what step 2 in the CHOOSE tool is all about
Teach kids two important truths:
- There are always lots of choices for us.
- We may have to look hard to find them, especially when we can’t have our first choice.
Conversation starter — Try this example:
On Saturday morning, Gina’s mom told her she had to clean her room—right now, and no excuses! Gina was just getting ready to go outside to ride her bike. But now she has to clean her room. She doesn’t have any choice….right?
It’s true—Gina doesn’t have a choice about whether or not to clean her room. Mom was clear about that. But she still has choices. In fact, what Gina chooses to do next is very important. First ask: What are some of Gina’s choices? Let the child struggle to multiply options (and here are some possible responses you can drop in to help kickstart their thinking):
- She can mess around and try to avoid cleaning her room.
- She can try to sneak out of the house and ride her bike anyway.
- She can “Claim her problem” and get it done as quickly as possible so she can get on with what she really wants to do.
- What other choices can you think of? (after children exhaust their lists—help them add 2 more!)
- Can you see how the choice Gina makes will either help her or make things harder? (i.e. what are the consequences?)
Finding all our choices takes practice.
Most children (and adults) give up too soon, thinking we just don’t have any options, or we do the first thing that comes into our mind.
Brainstorming leads to empowerment.
It gives children the tools they need to protect themselves from being victimized or acting impulsively, especially in those situations in which we are not available to guide or protect them.
Growing up knowing, “I always, always have choices” is one of the most valuable gifts we can give children!
Tweetable: Many children give up too soon when brainstorming choices in any given situation. This could help. Click to Tweet