Helping kids make decisions: the forced choice approach

By guest blogger Tara Miller

forced choice exerciseOften in life, we are faced with choices between two—or more—good options, but we don’t have the time, energy or money to do all of them. We have to choose. It’s especially difficult to choose when both options seem quite good.

When the person making the choice is a child or teenager, it can be particularly tempting to simply tell them what you think they should choose. After all, you have experience and insight that they don’t. However, if you want them to truly commit to their own decision, they’ll need to take ownership of it themselves.

The “forced choice” approach

Here’s a coaching-based exercise you can use called the “forced choice” approach. In this case, I used it with my 18-year-old daughter who was choosing a college this spring, but it could be applied to any situation where there’s a choice to be made between options.

Knock-out factors

My daughter had first narrowed down her choices using some “knock-out factors.” These are criteria that would make her decide against a school outright. For a serious student athlete, a knock-out factor might be a school not having a good basketball team. My daughter had two knock-out factors: she wanted a school that was out-of-state and she wanted one where the campus felt like a positive fit on an intuitive level. One school looked perfect for her on paper, but when she went to visit it failed the knock-out test. It quickly fell off her list and she didn’t apply there.

forced choice universityAfter the narrowing process, she was left with two colleges. Both of them seemed to be equally good choices, she had been accepted to both, and she could picture herself attending either school rather easily. So how should she make this decision?

Think through the reasons

I started by asking the opening question: “What are you seeking to accomplish by going to college?” This question was designed to help her think through her reasons for going at all and to consider what she most wanted from the experience. She responded that she wanted to get a degree so she could go on to graduate school; she wanted the opportunity to make friends and live away on her own, and she wanted what she called, “the college experience.”

Criteria to evaluate

Then I asked her, given that processing, what criteria she wanted to use for evaluating a college.  Here are the options she generated in no particular order:

  • good opportunities to make friends
  • professors who are engaged and available
  • good preparation for graduate school
  • good financial package/pricing
  • opportunities for fun off campus
  • good study abroad program
  • an acapella group

Compare options: Which is more important?

Then came the forced choice part. I asked her to compare each option with each other option and ask, “Which is more important?” No ties or passing, and sometimes she found the choices very difficult, such as when I asked, “Which is more important—a good financial package or a good study abroad program?” Whichever option she deemed more important got a tally mark, which created rankings.

So she made 21 choices– comparing each item with each other item. Here are the rankings she came up with. The tally marks at the end of each item reflect how many times that item was chosen over other items, resulting in a weighting of how important each item was to her.

  1. good financial package/pricing (6)
  2. good study abroad program (5)
  3. good opportunities to make friends (3)
  4. professors who are engaged an available (3)
  5. good preparation for graduate school (3)
  6. opportunities for off-campus fun (1)
  7. acapella group (0)

Some takeaways

The financial package held a lot of weight for her as she was concerned about going into debt. She really, really wants to study abroad– even more so than she had thought. An acapella group is just a nice-to-have, not an essential. Off-campus fun doesn’t mean as much to her as opportunities to make friends on campus.

forced choice coin tossShe can now use these criteria—weighted by importance—in order to decide between colleges. And if two schools come out basically the same even when compared, there’s always the coin flip test: toss a coin in the air, call it, and when it lands gauge your level of disappointment or excitement.

What are some choices the kids in your life are currently facing? How might you use this exercise to help them make decisions that are most in line with what they value?

Tweetable: Is your son or daughter processing an important decision? One mom shares a coaching exercise she used that helped her daughter choose which university to attend. Click to Tweet

Grandparents as spiritual guides for their family

grandmother guidesTo a culture increasingly entertained (or disgusted) by its own superficiality, the role of grandparents as spiritual guides seems like a good use of one’s later years.  Who better to draw young family members into deeper life issues than their most credible, experienced elders?

Grandparents can find simple guidelines from Rabbi Edythe Mencher. I’m quoting her, but personalizing it for grandparents. She writes, “The earlier we facilitate [a child’s spirituality] the better prepared the child will be, now and in later life, to turn to God for assurance, comfort and understanding.”

Tip:   Confront your own misgivings. You don’t have to resolve all your doubts in order to talk to your grandchildren about God.

Each of us can come to a unique knowledge of God just as our ancestors did. It’s the struggle to find God that counts and we should not shy from it.

God is the lover of the human race… our aim is to emphasize that the relationship between God and God’s creations is one of love. More important than the love of God is the child’s awareness of it.

Tip:   Learn to interpret questions your grandchild asks about God before replying or changing the subject.

Don’t impose pat answers. Allow children to take their own journey of discovery by expressing their ideas freely. Make sure you are listening carefully to their questions– they may not be asking what you initially think they are asking, and it’s important not to answer what they’re not asking. They’ll feel missed in the conversation. Ask follow up questions if you need to.

grandparents guide playTip:   Share your own wonderings about God and the universe.

Include God in everyday play activities. Acknowledge God’s place in our day by day reality. One way to do this is to notice when a person’s conduct resembles God’s action as it is manifested in the world and in life. Human beings are [created in God’s image]….They are godlike when they act with decency and compassion or when they… still forgive the flaws of humanity.

Tip:   Help your grandchild develop trust through your loving care, supported by your faith.

grandparents as spiritual guides The biblical term for faith designates an attitude of trust between humanity and God. To have faith… is to “entrust” oneself to God and to feel secure in this trust. The believer, as Shalom Ben Chorin put it, ‘does not believe in God; he or she believes God…’ expressing trust that the living God is near us….”

See Rabbi Mencher’s complete article here.

Tweetable:  #Grandparents! Convincing a culture increasingly entertained (or disgusted) by its own superficiality that your grandchildren’s belief in God should matter to them seems like a good use of one’s later life. Interested doing this better? Click to Tweet

Parents work a puzzle of how kids develop character

quiz on childcenteredspirituality I love a word puzzle or quiz that comes with the answers at the bottom of the column, sometimes upside down — A. What is the name of the highest mountain in Africa?   B. What is the largest brass instrument in an orchestra? *

A question I puzzle over as I engage with a child’s spiritual development is —  What habits, if instilled with love, will most likely lead kids into a richly satisfying life of doing right by each other and walking humbly with God?

How would you answer this question for the children you love? For me, here would be the upside down answers at the bottom of my column: compassion for other living things, rituals providing structure and safety, and the following —

Forgiveness and humility

One father spoke to me about this commitment: “Because our family acknowledges God’s involvement in our everyday life, we understand that God desires to be with us and this desire doesn’t arise because we are perfect people. We do wrong and make mistakes yet God still loves us. The result is that we as parents are better able to admit our mistakes (which our children recognize anyway), and we model how to tell on ourselves, apologize and show our family how to forgive and move on.”

puzzle books Gratitude and generosity

Ms. Kerry provides this example in her book Self-Sufficient Kids: “….. “Mackenzie was 13 years old when she began collecting children’s books for shelters in and around Alpharetta, Georgia. It soon became a family project with her 2 brothers, Alex and Benjamin, working alongside her. In total, they have collected and donated over 360,000 books for shelters across the world through their charity, Sheltering Books.”

Seeking God and truth

Erin James, a mother of three, recently told a story of what happened to her last Sunday at church, The congregation sang a hymn and she let go of her anxieties and concerns as she sang the words with her whole heart. She closed her eyes and felt tears well up at the goodness and love of God. Then, “[m]y oldest daughter tapped me on the shoulder while I was praising God and asked me why I was crying and closing my eyes. I whispered to her that I was thanking Him for everything. As I began singing again, I saw my daughter emulating me out of the corner of my eye. It was beautiful to see her, so young and eager to praise the Lord.”

Kids find better answers to life’s puzzles when we are there to light their way.  

* A. Mount Kilimanjaro  –  B. The tuba

Tweetable: What habits, if instilled with love, will most likely lead kids into a richly satisfying life of doing right by each other and walking humbly with God? Read more here. Click to Tweet

 

Do Christmas with a different attitude

Christmas attitudeChristmas. The late journalist Harry Reasoner called it a “tremendous burst of gift buying, parties and near hysteria [done in the name of] a quiet event that Christians believe happened a long time ago.” Let’s be people who show kids how to do December with a different attitude.

Attitude #1: Be gracious

 If you are a non-Christian — Accept Christmas graciously.

Maybe you have personal history of your deeply held, non-Christian perspective/faith being trampled on by the majority. Perhaps they’ve been insensitive to you since childhood, but you can aim high and wish your fellow citizens all the joys to which their beliefs entitle them.

If you are a Christian —  Accept unbelief graciously.

Christmas attitudesSome Christians feel such a dramatic shock in their heart when others find the birth of Jesus to be irrelevant. You can become angry and lose the capacity to promote peace. Different people have different beliefs and you really can’t expect that everyone should share yours. Aim high and remember that different perspectives are okay.

Attitude #2: Remain composed

If you are a non-Christian —  Accept Christmas respectfully.

The Christmas story has a magnificent appeal, Jesus coming as a baby to show what God is like. Most people like babies–if God wanted to be loved, God moved correctly here. If God wanted to be intimate with humankind, God moved correctly, for the experiences of birth and familyhood are among the most intimate and precious experiences.* It just might be easier to remain composed when you focus on this perspective.

If you are a Christian — Accept unbelief respectfully.

The whole story that a virgin was selected by God to bear God’s son as a way of showing love and concern for humanity is not an idea that has been popular, even with some theologians. Remain composed by admitting that it is a somewhat illogical idea and God does not, and you ought not, force anyone to accept it. Instead, focus on loving people as Jesus did.

 Attitude #3: Cultivate and feed goodwill

How?  A lesson in these excerpts from the poem Anyway by Dr. Kent M. Keith

  • People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered. Forgive them anyway.
  • If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
  • The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.

*I’m paraphrasing Harry Reasoner here.

Tweetable: Goodbye Christmas hysteria. Show kids how to do December with a different attitude. Click to Tweet
 


My new book, Child-centered Spirituality: Helping children develop their own spirituality, is now available on Amazon – just in time for the holidays!

Where did Grandma go when she died?

Why doesn’t God stop bad things from happening?

Many parents have experienced a child asking difficult spiritual questions– usually at inopportune moments. While we stumble around trying to think of an answer, we feel inadequate… and sometimes startled by their questions. If you’re like most adults, you try your hardest to avoid thinking much about questions like these. So why on earth is a child asking you about them?

We talk with our children about the importance of school work, about physical health, about how to navigate social difficulties. We even talk with them about sex, drugs, and internet safety… or if we don’t, we know we should.

So why do we find it so difficult to talk with children about God?

Whether you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, foster parent, or other caregiver, this is a book to help you engage with the children in your life about their spiritual needs.

Purchase your copy in paperback here.

If you prefer the Kindle version, you can purchase it here.

Change the way kids see generosity

Would you like to prepare the children you love to have a lifelong habit of generosity? How’s it going?  Most of us believe in giving our money, time and talent to others but are looking for fresh ways to change that belief into action.

1) Share the joy you derive from giving.

generosity to thrift storeTalk about your giving experiences with them. Celebrate when things go well. Share the lessons you learn when things don’t turn out as you’d hoped. Start young to include them in your charitable efforts (as simple as having them in the car when you drop off donations to a thrift store). Be careful how you talk about their school’s fund-raising appeals. You’re teaching them how to react when a need is presented.

2) Find them a hero or mentor.

generosity in a sports heroIn whatever areas interest the child, you will find generous heroes (sports, music, etc). Sarah Trzepacz suggests asking the children’s librarian for titles featuring current and historical heroes “to infuse children with new ideas and renewed energy.” Find a generous hero or mentor among your trusted family friends or neighbors who might introduce new ideas and renewed energy into family projects.

3) High schools often require volunteering in order to graduate.

Sarah Trzepacz observed, “A teen who once enjoyed annual family outings to plant trees in a neighborhood park or sort canned goods at a local food bank may suddenly balk at spending their Saturday afternoon with family members. They may be letting you know they are ready to doing some giving independently from you.” How convenient that many high schools encourage this. Sit down with teens and find out what causes they are passionate about if you can’t already tell by their outside interests or the posters on their bedroom walls. Then if they never invite you to be involved in any way, do whatever you can to say yes and support them, without giving any ideas of your own.

4) Change the way children see generosity.

generosity and instant replay“Sports Illustrated cited instant replay as one of sports’ ’20 great tipping points’ of the previous 50 years and wrote of instant replay’s impact, ‘The revolutionary premise was that sports could be improved not by changing the games but by changing the way they were packaged.’” (Chris Erskine in the Los Angeles Times, 1-19-15)

Of the options mentioned above, which one stands out to you for its potential to change the way generosity is packaged in your family?

Tweetable: If your goal is to raise generous young adults, a couple of examples here might spark your new idea. Click to Tweet

 


 
My new book, Child-centered Spirituality: Helping children develop their own spirituality, is scheduled to be released on November 15th – just in time for the holidays!

Where did Grandma go when she died?

Why doesn’t God stop bad things from happening?

Many parents have experienced a child asking difficult spiritual questions– usually at inopportune moments. While we stumble around trying to think of an answer, we feel inadequate… and sometimes startled by their questions. If you’re like most adults, you try your hardest to avoid thinking much about questions like these. So why on earth is a child asking you about them?

We talk with our children about the importance of school work, about physical health, about how to navigate social difficulties. We even talk with them about sex, drugs, and internet safety… or if we don’t, we know we should.

So why do we find it so difficult to talk with children about God?

Whether you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, foster parent, or other caregiver, this is a book to help you engage with the children in your life about their spiritual needs.

Enter your email below to be notified when our book is available for purchase!

* indicates required




A compassionate heart: is the cost really worth it?

compassionate heart“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”   –C.S. Lewis

Authors Charles R. Ridley and Robert E. Logan inspired me to reflect on the push-pull of desiring to cultivate compassion in children while simultaneously shielding them from emotional pain. If we want to invest in the development of a child’s compassionate heart, there are costs involved. We decide for ourselves whether the cost is worth it.

Cost—A child’s awareness of emotional pain

compassionate heart girlWhen a family is touched by disappointment or loss, isn’t our natural inclination to run, to find a way to protect ourselves and our children? “To care—at a deep and authentic level of our spirits—opens us up to pain,” says Ridley.  Certainly we monitor how many details the child knows. We also stay emotionally connected with them through their discomfort as they find composure in the knowledge that they need not fear emotional pain.

Cost—A child’s feelings of inadequacy

When children recognize that hardships have entered life—their life or someone else’s—they learn that they are not able to fix it or change it. We’re tempted to step in and pump them up with positive affirmations because we want them be confident and happy.  Yet to develop a compassionate heart we must leave children with their feelings of being powerless. We come alongside them to help them form their own healthy way of handling these feelings.

Cost—An adult’s mandate to show compassion in action

We are busy people. “Still, we realize that kids learn from what we do more than from what we say. So we stop what we’re doing and tend to a person who needs help especially when it is not convenient to do so,” noted Signe Whitson. “We hold ourselves back before speaking in a frustrating interpersonal interaction. This is costly when we are tired and swamped by many responsibilities.”

Tweetable: If we want to invest in the development of a child’s compassionate heart, there are costs. See more here. Click to Tweet