Do you ever worry, like I do, about what kind of adults your children will grow into? Sometimes when I see my preschooler hitting his brother or my toddler smearing banana all over herself, I wonder how they will ever gain the skills to make positive decisions and grow into competent, responsible adults. But luckily there are ways to help empower kids to make good decisions and give them opportunities to practice those skills. Below are some tips that I have learned as well as ideas from other parents and educators, plus a great new interactive children’s book you won’t want to miss!
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of What Should Danny Do? for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Empowering Kids to Make Good Decisions
Much of what I share below is based on my experience of the concept of positive discipline, which is a method of helping children learn to “develop self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation, and problem-solving skills.”
Positive Discipline: The Classic Guide to Helping Children Develop Self-Discipline, Responsibility, Cooperation, and Problem-Solving Skills is a classic book that has been used by countless parents and teachers to end the battle of wills with children and help raise the competent, responsible adults we all dream of. It has transformed how I deal with disagreements with and between my kids and has really made our time together so much more enjoyable. Below I’ll share some of what we’re doing at home to put the ideas of positive discipline into practice, plus a great interactive children’s book that will teach children that they have the power to make good decisions!
The Power of Choice
As an overworked parent of young children, it may seem idyllic to imagine someone doing everything for us (as we imagine that we do for our children). But would it really? Sure, I might like a break now and again, but would I really want someone deciding exactly what I would eat and when, or what I would wear? Children often enjoy having a say in these basic, everyday decisions, and it is great practice for them to learn how to make good decisions. Importantly, just teaching them that they have a choice is essential, especially when it comes to setting boundaries with others. We may grit our teeth when our toddler screams “No!” yet again, but don’t we hope she’ll feel just as empowered to say “no” when she’s a teenager?
Offer Limited Choices
One way to give your children practice making good decisions in a way that doesn’t create havoc is to offer limited, acceptable choices. You don’t simply ask your child what she wants for dinner, or she is likely to enthusiastically reply, “Ice cream!” Decide what is acceptable to you and just offer that. Not only does this ensure that she picks something you can live with, many children find it overwhelming to be given too many options. “Do you want a turkey sandwich or yogurt for lunch?” For another example, check out this genius hack for toddler snack time! The child feels empowered because he is getting his snack all by himself, and the mom can feel good that he is choosing from healthy options. My mother did this all the time when we were kids, and it really helped us practice those budding skills – and feel very grown up!
Making good decisions is not an intuitive process. Children need our guidance, often repeatedly over time, to begin learning these critical thinking skills. Modeling good decision-making and providing targeted encouragement (rather than praise) can help children along the way. Consider it training rather than an annoyance. Yes, it would be much easier to just do it yourself, but as with so many aspects of parenting, you are making an investment for the long-term, so be on hand to help your children as they try to make good decisions.
Work Together on Solutions
Often parents enter into power struggles with their children without meaning to, when you end up on opposite sides and one will be the winner and one the loser. Offering choices can be one way to focus on finding a solution together. Enlist your child’s support to find a way to resolve a problem rather than just telling them what to do. So if your toddler is refusing to put on his shoes, try asking if he’d like to wear his blue sneakers or his red ones. Does he want to put on his shoes first or his jacket? This technique can diffuse a difficult situation plus get him invested in finding a solution. Here is a great example of how that looks in a situation where your children are hitting each other.
Give Plenty of Practice
The more practice they can get, the better! Offer choices in small matters, so that when the big decisions crop up they don’t seem so overwhelming. A child who chooses her lunch or picks out her outfit every day will feel more confident about her abilities to choose.
In the heat of the moment it can be difficult to make good decisions. Instead, pick quiet moments to try role playing or challenging them with different scenarios that they need to problem solve. It can be helpful for them to get practice without the pressure of “real world” situations. The more often they run through different scenes, the more they exercise those decision making skills and so are better prepared the next time a tough situation arises.
Choose Your Timing
When a child is having a tantrum or is clearly upset, they are not in a good place to talk about solutions or discuss choices. First you need to help them to calm down and feel better then wait to follow up afterwards. Know your child and judge when offering choices could help and when they just need to be removed from a situation.
Help Them Learn from Mistakes
Here is a great article on how to respond when children make mistakes. We can also model forgiveness – of the children and of ourselves – when mistakes are made. We are not helping our children when we make all the decisions for them or when we make things too easy – choices help them gain new skills, and experiencing disappointment from a bad decision can let them learn to deal with big emotions in a safe environment. It is also important to separate the idea of good and bad choices from good and bad people. They are not “bad” because they make bad choices. Choices can be wrong, but mistakes are also great learning opportunities.
What Should Danny Do? is a fantastic, fun resource that kids of a range of ages will enjoy. Do you remember those old “choose your adventure” books? This is an updated version for younger kids, where you can help Danny choose how to respond in different scenarios that will be readily recognizable to children. What should they do if their brother grabs their “favorite” plate at breakfast? How should they respond when someone is teasing them? With each scenario, children are able to choose one of two options, then turn to the corresponding page to see the outcome of their choice.
This book is such a wonderful way to reinforce the idea that children have the power to make good decisions. Danny’s father helps him see this as a super power, and throughout the book the reader helps Danny make choices and see the impact they have on his day. My son loved the concept of the book and right away started flipping pages and trying out all the different combinations and endings of the story. I also loved that there was not simply one big decision that Danny had to make, but rather a series of decisions that affected the course of the day. So if he made a bad decision at breakfast, he had several more opportunities to make better choices throughout the day.
What Should Danny Do? is an upbeat, positive way to teach children that they have the power to make good decisions!