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The Key to Helping Your Children Make Good Choices

Whether a child is three or thirteen, learning to make good choices is an important skill, one that it seems many people are lacking today. Parents often find themselves frustrated and perplexed with the decisions their children make. Making the right choice in any situation though is a skill that must be learned and put into practice if children are going to grow into mature adults. 

I worked for years in a wilderness camp school for “troubled” or at-risk youth. Much like a family we lived together 24 hours a day, and with a group of 10 boys at a time, I had the responsibility and the challenge to train them to make healthy choices. These were children that chronically made poor decisions. Many were caught up in cycles of violence, abuse, apathy, and anger and were unsure how to make good decisions even when they wanted to. Thus, in this proving ground, I learned many of the skills that parents often struggle with for years when training their children to make better choices. 

Here are some of my key insights:

Never ask a question that you don’t want the answer to.

For Example:

  • “Do you hate me or something?”

  • “What’s wrong with you?”

  • “What’s your problem?” 

  • Anything that is binary or a “yes” or “no,” where one answer is clearly unacceptable. 

When a child is frustrated or acting out they can provide the most snarky and sarcastic answers conceivable. If a parent were to step back they may actually be impressed by their child's wit. But with emotions running high, parents will only find themselves more frustrated and likely further escalate the problem. So when a child is out of sorts, frustrated, or upset, keep things simple, speak in a low, calm voice, and don’t add anything to the situation that will only fuel the fires of frustration you as a parent are trying to put out. 

Deescalate the situation first.

What if anything is triggering your child? If it is environmental, make a change of scenery. Bring them somewhere with less stimulation and away from whatever is causing them to be triggered. If it is an object, then simply remove it. If it is someone else, then ask everyone to take a moment to be quiet. Are there any outstanding needs the child should have met? Are they hungry, thirsty or overtired? Oftentimes just taking a moment to understand the source of the need and address can bring things quickly to a calm. 

Because children haven’t yet learned to effective communicators—this can include older children—then one way to prevent them from choosing to act out, is simply by demonstrating that their needs will be met. Once the child’s need has been met and they are calm, try role-playing an appropriate response. And if a similar situation occurs ask them to practice the response they have already correctly played through in the past. 

Use silence effectively.

There is a proverb in the Bible that says, “Where words are many, sin is not absent” (Proverbs 10:19). Oftentimes when a parent is overzealous to take control, correct, or seek an immediate solution to a misbehavior, they only further exacerbate the situation. For parents and children alike, taking a few minutes to sit quietly and evaluate the situation and consider possible responses can generate huge dividends in spreading calm and doing more effective problem solving. 

Extended silences also make children uncomfortable. Sometimes a child will try to use silence as a weapon. Their problem is that their patience rarely exceeds that of their parents. When a parent chooses to sit with their child, look at them intently, smile, and yet say nothing it is one of the most terrifying responses to a misbehaving child. Children sometimes act out just to get a response. When you don’t give them any, but instead exercise complete control over your emotions—they find it terrifying. A child will begin to squirm, often being the first to say something like: “What?!” or “Just say something!”

Because a misbehaving child doesn’t know how to interpret a parent’s silence, they sometimes get scared of what it could mean, and will even, on occasion, start trying to solve their own problem. Thus, by saying nothing at all a parent often makes serious progress with helping a child fix their attitude and get their problem resolved. 

Give choices, but only give good choices.

Once it does become time to speak there is usually something or even several things that need to be done. There may be relationships that need mending, apologies to offer, messes to clean up, etc, and with all of those there is likely more than one correct way to do it. So a parent goes a long way of reestablishing trust and valuing their child’s individual autonomy when they give them choices and allow them to decide on which outcome they will create. When you give a child a choice and follow through with the choice they make, it reinforces that they have control over their life and that they can create not only negative outcomes but positive ones as well. 

At this point, in order to help our children make good choices it is key that we offer them multiple choices, any of which are happy for them to choose. This is one of my favorite parenting hacks: Let your child choose which good thing they are going to do next. For example:

“Do you want to clean up the mess first and then apologize, or apologize to your sister and then clean up the mess?”

“Would you like five minutes to calm down before going to bed, or are you ready to brush your teeth?”

“Do you want to sweep or put away the dishes?”

“Can I have a hug, or would you prefer some alone time?

Sometimes if may be just switching the order of multiple things that need to happen. It could be recruiting help with shared chores. It could be offering multiple solutions to solving the same problem. The point is, a good choice will be made. As a parent you rightly exercise your authority, while simultaneously respecting your child’s autonomy, and everyone is a beneficiary of greater peace and respect. 

When a child pushes for an option that was not given, a parent can remind them of the choices and give them a new choice that you can decide for them if they are not able to decide on their own. In most cases a child will opt to make a decision for themselves, but even if they don’t a parent is wise to remind them that that indecision itself was the decision they made, and perhaps next time they would prefer to be more decisive. 

Be okay with the choice your child makes

After offering a child choices the next important thing for a parent is to be okay with the choice that they have made. We want to set our children up to succeed, which is why parents should avoid offering bad choices as options (since they really are not). Thus, even if you prefer them to make one choice over another, simply log it away in your mind as a topic for future discussion, and be content to accept the choice they have made. This builds trust, helping your children to know that you mean what you say and they can count on that. Over time you won’t have to be as diligent in crafting options because your child will have greater trust in you and themselves to resolve the issues that may occur. 

Ensure that there is follow through

The last important point after a child makes a decision is to ensure that it gets done satisfactorily. If apologies need to be offered, then you should oversee it being done, or follow up with the offended party later. If chores need completing, then make sure the expectations of when and to what degree it should be completed and follow through. To allow a child to alter the agreed upon outcomes is often a manipulation tactic and one that actually tears down trust and undermines a parent’s authority. When you make sure that the terms of a child’s choice are followed through, then it also allows the child to build further trust with you as their parent and means that you can spend less time supervising and more time praising the good choices that they have made.

Key Takeaway: Be Consistent 

Parents will find that helping their children to make good choices comes down less on the children, and more on the parents and the training that they offer. Like any skill, in order to make right choices, children first need the proper knowledge of how to do it and the example and accountability of both seeing good choices in action, and knowing that they will be expected to do the same. The most important thing for a parent to remember is to be consistent. The skill of making good choices will be built little by little over time. But inconsistency in our own actions or expectations will do great damage to the trust we’ve worked so hard to build. A good rule of thumb is, when trust is broken once, it will take at least ten proper actions to reinforce what has been torn down. So even when it feels like little progress is being made, take comfort in knowing that you are investing in something that will positively affect your children for the rest of their lives. 

If gaining more insights into parenting and generating stronger, positive relationships with your children is an area where you need more help, then I’d love to speak more with you about my passion for serving families and why I developed the Homeschool Mastery Group. I have spent tens of thousands of hours working with some of the most difficult children and families and helping them rebuild trust and healthy relationships. I’ve learned that home education can be one of the most important decisions a parent can make to improve their family’s wellbeing. And I’ve devoted my life to sharing these insights with others so they can finally experience the life they want together. 

Learn more about how to take the next step for your family:

Or shoot me a message to find out more about getting started on your homeschooling journey:

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