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
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
At some point, every child understands a moral directive and does the opposite. This is a defining moment in the child’s life. This is when they (subconsciously) ask us, So what? Why should I do the right thing? What difference does it make? We are keenly aware that we give the answer to these questions by what we do ourselves more than by what we tell them.
Reflect for a moment on why you do the right thing.
Why do you obey traffic laws? Why do you tell the truth? Why do you follow instructions from flight attendants? Why do you file your taxes with honesty?
- to avoid unpleasant consequences?
- it’s how I was raised
- I draw on spiritual strength
- it gets me more of what I want
- to get to heaven?
- because __ said so (the law, the boss, the church)
When we take time to reflect on the meaning of our choices, we become clear on the direction we are giving children.
Your internal motive for why you do what you do shapes, both directly and indirectly, the framework your child uses to answer, “So what? Why should I?” That message becomes part of their hard-wiring for years to come.
- At some point, every child hears a moral directive and does the opposite, a defining moment in the child’s life. Click to Tweet
- When we reflect on the meaning of our choices, we become clear on the direction we are giving our kids. Click to Tweet
A child’s soul develops like a new building under construction with scaffolding around it. Parents and other adults provide a framework for support, but the child is the one under development. The point is the child—or the building.
Everybody looks past the scaffolding
They are trying to see around or through the scaffolding to get an idea of what the building is going to look like. So it doesn’t matter what scaffolding looks like, as long as it serves its purpose.
Instead of worrying about what others think of our efforts, what if we keep our focus on the best interests of the child?
What will help develop their soul?
- Letting them make mistakes. Not covering those mistakes up, but helping them process wrongdoing so they can learn from it.
- Serving as a sounding board as they think, reflect, and make the kind of internal changes that will allow them to grow. Here’s a free resource to use.
When scaffolding is no longer needed, it goes away.
I’d argue that this removal of support doesn’t happen all of a sudden at age 18, but gradually throughout childhood and the teen years as kids take on more responsibility and make wise choices more consistently.
Paradoxically, the sign of good parenting is when they don’t need you anymore.
A university professor ended her week of instruction with reflection questions for her students: What was your significant learning this past week? What did you learn or what was reinforced about yourself?
Reflection didn’t happen.
She asked the students to get in small groups to discuss. “They got in their groups and just looked at one another with baffled looks on their faces while remaining silent. I tried rewording the questions and providing examples and still got blank looks when they returned to their group discussions,” explains Jackie Gerstein.
Without reflection, kids aren’t getting the meaning.
She continues, “I began to get frustrated by their lack of response until a major AHA struck me . . . They are products of a standardized system where they …finished one unit of information and were asked to quickly move on to the next unit. They were not given the time, skills, and opportunities to extract personalized meanings from their studies. Reflection was not part of their curriculum as it cannot be measured nor tested.” *
In Child-Centered Spirituality we observe the same thing happening.
Kids move from one activity to the next. Be one of those adults in their lives who offers them time to consider and express what they are learning or feeling. I was with a preteen girl and her grandmother this week. The girl planned for the three of us to have lunch and go to a movie. At lunch we laughed a lot and I when I looked back on our time together, I realized that we had touched on living in our families, how we’re experiencing God, and making smart choices. One open-ended reflection question can create an AHA moment for everyone at the table.
Try one of these reflection questions:
- What are some things you got to do this week that other people might not be able or allowed to do?
- What do you think are the most important qualities of a good (grandparent…parent…teacher…etc)?
*I read Jackie Gerstein’s story on her website, User Generated Education.
Tweetable: Kids move from one activity to the next and few adults offer them time to consider and express what they are learning. Examples here of reflection questions. Click to Tweet