It’s interesting to take a moment from time to time to imagine what life would be like if you had made different decisions. This came up recently during my 9 year wedding anniversary. I said to my boys that “if mommy and daddy hadn’t gotten married, you wouldn’t be here.” Of course, they didn’t really absorb how profound that is and I didn’t dwell on it with them – it’s a little too abstract for 3-year-olds, but it sent me off on a tangent in my head about all of the big and little decisions that I’ve made in my life to lead me here…
Decisions are so important in our lives and are, of course, a key aspect to being an adult.
And ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do, right? Raise smart, good, self-sufficient, independent people. People we can send off into the “real world” to become successful. But decision making is a hard skill to learn and master; many adults still struggle with how to make decisions, let alone whether the decision is “right” or “wrong.” We often learn from watching those around us and seeing the decision making process in action, but (at least in my experience growing up) we don’t necessary talk explicitly about how to make decisions, set goals, or how to follow through with those goals.
It got me thinking: how do we help children understand their choices, make decisions, consider the consequences, and follow through? Here are some ideas.
Set high, but realistic expectations with goal setting.
“What do you want to be when you grow up,” is probably one of my least favorite questions. Ever. I STILL can’t answer this question, but it can lead to great conversations about goals and choices. If your kiddo says “I want to be an astronaut,” then what a great opportunity to talk about what that means, and the choices and decisions that had to be made to get to that point: “Awesome, bud! Astronauts work a lot with math and science. Being an astronaut means that you will need to work really hard on those subjects in school…” Or maybe they say “I want to be Boba Fett (a character from Star Wars)!” (This is one of my kiddo’s recent answers to this question… He’s three.) Well, depending on the age of the kiddo, you can decide if this is a goal that needs a dose of realism. “Boba Fett is a great character, played by a great actor! Would you like to write stories, like Star Wars? Or act in movies? Maybe we could find a class for you to learn about great story telling?”
Or maybe they really want to buy a bicycle with their allowance money. Great! Here’s another opportunity to talk about how to achieve that goal, e.g. good behavior to continue to get their allowance, extra work they could do to earn more, choosing to stick with their goal instead of buying that new Ninja Turtle toy they just saw at Target. It’s also important to set the proper expectation with this kind of goal: “You get $10 a week and the bike is $200, by setting this goal and saving, you can expect to achieve your goal in about 5 months.”
Show them the process.
Do you have a decision you need to make? Do you need to buy a car? Get a new job? How about buy a new lawn mower? Have your kids participate in the decision making process with you. Explain what is going on your head as you make the decision. Talk about features, pros, cons, and possible outcomes of each decision. Talk about finances and prices. Ask them what they would do if they were you and why. Letting them see the process from start to finish will help them develop their skills as they start having more choices and gaining more independence.
Share your failures
Did going to a concert instead of studying cause you to fail a test? Did a last minute splurge disrupt your goal to be debt free? Did you drive home from a bar when you thought you were okay and realized later when you got home that driving was actually a really bad idea? Often, as parents, we want to be good role models for our children and present them with only the good/successful stories from our lives, but if we share the stories in our lives where we failed, where we made the wrong decision, what the consequences were, and the lessons we learned, perhaps our children won’t be “doomed to repeat” our mistakes. Understanding the real and serious consequences from someone who lived it will add an extra bit of levity to any situation.
Let them fail
Many successful people believe that failure is the key to their success. Without failure, without making mistakes, we don’t learn and we don’t know how to truly appreciate our successes. Failure helps us stay humble. Failure can keep us grounded. But parents have a difficult time with this one. It’s hard to sit back when you know that your kiddo is about to fail a test or get an F on an assignment. It’s hard to let them fall and get hurt when you know that you can grab them, but every once in awhile, it’s good to let them fall to help them learn. It’s good to let them get in a little bit of trouble to understand the consequences. If they don’t learn these lessons when they’re young, failures in adulthood may be more severe and detrimental.