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
Celebrate when children make a realistic plan and act on one of their choices! (They are succeeding at a skill more than a few adults have not mastered.) It may not be perfect. They may have overlooked some important criteria. Maybe they need to move on to one of their other options. Yet with each new venture they learn valuable lessons about seeing things through.
See it through — act on the choice
The first four steps of the C.H.O.O.S.E. tool teach children to think about the wisest choice they can make. Now they take action.
The best choices are not necessarily the easiest!
In order to “see it through” children learn to do things that are wise but feel scary or difficult—taking a risk. They don’t know how risks will turn out. But they only develop new skills by taking risks.
A child’s follow-through increases significantly when they ask for and receive help.
It’s okay to make mistakes or forget sometimes. The point is to keep talking about it and working at it until the child accomplishes the goal.
Conversation starter: A girl is learning to see it through
Shiloh, Melissa’s preteen daughter, made a choice that looked great on paper. She chose to talk to someone when she felt hurt instead of eating to cover up her feelings—and it’s proving to be a struggle to keep her commitment.
Shiloh walked into the house hoping no one was home.
She didn’t feel like talking to anyone. She was in luck—nobody was home. Without even realizing what she was doing, she put her books on the table and went immediately to the kitchen and grabbed the package of Oreos. How lucky can you get! She took a fistful and started twisting them open so she could scrape the creamy middle off with her teeth before crunching into the chocolate wafers.
Somewhere in the distance she heard a car door slam. At the moment, however, chocolate wafers and creamy middles were all she cared about.
“Shiloh, where are you?” her mom yelled as she stumbled through the back door, her arms overstuffed with grocery bags. “I need some help with —” she stopped in mid-sentence when she saw the cookie package clutched tightly in her daughter’s arms. “Uh, I take it things didn’t go very well today.”
Shiloh looked up, surprised by her mother’s words. “Why do you say that?”
“You’re eating cookies as if your life depended on it.”
“I know you. Whenever you get upset, you eat. Are you going to get a part in the school play?”
“I don’t know yet,” Shiloh said with her mouth full of cookies. “The list gets posted next week.”
“Shiloh, stop it!” Her mom said, prying the cookie package out of her daughter’s hands. “What happened to the list of things you could do instead of eating when you feel anxious? You decided you wouldn’t do this anymore—eat to cover up your feelings. We’ve talked this through a million times.”
“It was a dumb decision. It’s too hard, Mom. I can’t do it!”
Her mom sighed and said, “Yes, you can! And I will help if you’ll let me.” When Shiloh nodded, her mother continued, “Great! I remember your decision was to tell someone what happened and how you are really feeling. Do you want to talk about it?”
Be aware of opportunities for follow-through on choices made by children this week. Praise them when they do well carrying out a choice. Be aware of their need for help. If the child did not follow through with a choice, make time to talk about it.
(Linda Sibley developed the C.H.O.O.S.E. tool and shared Shiloh’s story with us.)
Tweetable: It’s not enough to know what to do, a kid has to see it through and do it.How we can help them succeed. 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