Parents often struggle with the idea of releasing decision making to their children. The act of letting kids make their own choices make some parents feel like they are letting go too soon and not going their job. It can be hard to know if it’s time to allow your child to make their choices.
Should parents let their child make their own decisions? Yes, parents should let their child make their own decisions as soon they are responsible enough to do so. Decision making is an important life skill that your child will need to thrive as they grow older. The earlier they start making age-appropriate choices, the sooner they will begin to develop the executive skills necessary to make good choices.
Of course, the key word there is age-appropriate. Children need to be guided through each stage of life by parents who have the final say and ultimate responsibility. Accepting these facts, parents who are diligent in releasing decision making and the responsibility that comes along with it to their children will help them grow into productive adults that recognize why their choices and actions do make a difference. The benefits of allowing your child to make their own decisions are bountiful, as discussed below.
Decision Making Establishes Boundaries Between Parent and Child
When you allow your child to make their own decisions, you are giving them autonomy over their lives and helping them develop the skills they need to thrive later in life. You are establishing healthy boundaries and communicating to them that they have some degree of control and ownership over the direction their life goes in.
Let’s say the school year is about to start, and it’s time to figure out what their after school activity will be. As the parent, you decide that they must participate in something because you know how important it is for a child to be engaged in after-school activities. That’s a boundary that you keep for yourself. But it’s OK to let the child decide (with your guidance) what they will be doing with their time after school.
Perhaps your child likes both soccer and volleyball, but both are played during the fall sports season. This is an excellent opportunity for them to make their own choice. As they do, help them think through the factors that are leading them to one decision over the other. If you can do so in a non-judgmental way, they will be more likely to be transparent with you as different situations arise that you may not be aware of.
If your child likes playing soccer better, but their friends are choosing volleyball instead, this is an excellent opportunity for them to learn how to prioritize. They need to weigh their options and think about the situation for themselves. You can help them identify their priorities, but don’t use too heavy a hand in guiding them.
In the end, you will have established your role as a guide, and they will have made a choice and will have worked towards building confidence and becoming independent. By showing them that you will let them make choices for themselves, they may better understand your role in guiding them along gradually.
Decision Making Allows the Child to Struggle
Children who learn how to wrestle with the pros and cons of a situation learn quickly that things are not as clear cut as they seem. The scenario above about the soccer team or the volleyball team fits here. They will have to decide whether it’s more important to be with their friends or do something they like to do. As they weigh their choices, they will learn that complex decisions are rarely easy to make, and often come with both logical and emotional factors that must be considered.
Allow them to struggle. It’s natural. It’s not something you will be able to walk them through step by step. As they experience their dilemma help them articulate their thoughts and emotions so they can have a better understanding of what they are thinking and feeling. A large part of your role in the decision-making process will be supportive, helping them learn how to listen to their inner voice so they can figure things out for themselves. In the end, they have to make the decision and live with it.
Decision Making Helps the Child Surface Their Desires
Our thoughts and actions do not start in our brains logically. They begin as emotions. Each year as your child gets older, they are working on developing the skills they need to understand and manage these emotions. These emotions can be difficult to process and present your child with what seems to them like a dilemma. During these moments, it’s essential for you to be patient with your child as they figure out how to process their emotions into thoughts, then words.
Try to remember what it was like for you as you were growing up. Things probably seemed very new. You didn’t always know what you wanted. When you did, you didn’t still fully understand why or how to get it.
Today’s kids are influenced by their parents, family, teachers, peers, and social media. They are attempting to process inputs that they don’t even realize are there. If you can find opportunities for your child to make their own decisions, they can begin to recognize the influence of other factors so they can find their voice and figure out what they want for themselves.
Decision Making Helps the Child Figure Out What They Want
This is one that should start early. It’s not always easy to figure out what you want. Even something as simple as letting your toddler pick out their clothes can have a considerable impact on how they learn to express themselves. When they get to open their closet, look through their clothes, and say “I want to wear that” they are surfacing their desires and taking ownership. This is to be encouraged as much as is reasonably possible.
As they grow older, they will need to figure out how their needs and desires fit into many situations along the way. If their parents give them the opportunity with the “small stuff,” they will be more prepared to figure out the “big stuff.”
Decision Making Builds Trust Between the Parent and Child
As your children grow older, they will seek to become more independent. It’s a natural and healthy part of becoming an adult. You don’t have any control over this reality. But you can influence how they grow independent. A parent who accepts their changing role in their child’s life can position themselves as a trusted guide for years to come
This is another concept that works better the earlier it is started. I have found it to be easy to apply to sports and hobbies. We require that our kids learn something new in their spare time. It can be a sport, music or academic skill. We come up with ideas and allow theirs to be heard too. When we come up with something they want to try, we let them. Typically, I think they need to try it for at least a month to see if it will stick.
After that period, we see how they like it (we are also monitoring them throughout the month). If they like it, great, they can keep doing the activity. If not, we don’t force it. As they commit to the activity we learn as much as we can about it with them, so we can help them at home and make sure they put the practice in necessary to succeed.
When they get stuck, we let them try to figure it out for themselves. If they can’t, then we help. When we can’t help we facilitate the conversation with the coach to make sure they figure out the problem. This cycle helps them to learn and make decisions on their own while reassuring them that we will be there if needed.
Decision Making Allows the Child to Learn From Their Mistakes
As our kids get older it’s natural to think that they have developed competence in a certain skill because they can talk through it with you. That’s not always true. Kids learn how to say the right thing before they learn how to do the right thing. Further, even when they show they are competent in front of you, they may go out on their own and make the same mistake that you attempted to guide them away from. This is natural. Be patient with them as they learn to deal with situations at the moment.
Think about what it’s like for an adult. The process of figuring out what we want is not always an easy one. Conflicting emotions and interests present us with competing priorities that we have to weigh as we work to determine the most prudent choice for that scenario. Prudence is not always the strength of a child. It takes time to learn that the quality of our choices will have a great impact on what will come next and that only comes with experience.
Encouraging Decision Making Builds Confidence in the Child
Effective decision making builds confidence. When kids see the products of their choices they learn that their choices really do make a difference. As their parent, you have the power to start building this confidence in them today. If you take the time now to talk to them about the impact their decisions can make, give them the freedom to make age-appropriate decisions, then reflect with them on the outcome of their decisions you will be helping them train their minds and become good decision makers.
The process through which they learn to make good decisions will have additional benefits. People love to be productive and thrive off of responsibility. They will have more trust in you, they will become stronger critical thinkers, and they will have a better understanding of cause and effect. Each of these benefits will help to build confidence within them.
Take the first step, aim for small wins, stay the course and be there for them each step of the way. If you are the guide who helps build confidence within your child you will have the chance to build a lifelong bond as serve as a trusted guide when needed.
As parents, we want to care for our kids and help them avoid mistakes that we can foresee. There is often merit in this desire. We certainly want to help them avoid danger. Sometimes, we can do more to help them in the long run by letting them figure things out on their own, and being there for them when they hit a bump in the road.
The earlier children start to make age-appropriate decisions, the better they will understand all the considerations and emotions that contribute to the decision making process. As a result, they will be more likely to possess the skills necessary to make good choices as they become adults.
You will have the ability to guide them each step of the way. It may sound counterintuitive, but by relinquishing some decision making you create a huge opportunity to establish yourself as a trusted guide. If you are successful in crafting this relationship dynamic, it has the potential to last a lifetime.
How Do I Know When My Child is Ready to Make Their Own Choices?
Children are born ready to make their own decisions. It is your responsibility to decide which decisions are age-appropriate. For example, a three-year-old is probably ready to start picking out their own clothes if you frame the decision by giving them the selection. Same goes for choosing what they want to eat. If you ask them “What would you like to eat, an apple or a banana?” They are totally capable of making that choice. If you leave it open ended, they are more likely to make a bad choice and pick chocolate each time.
Why Do Kids Make Bad Choices?
Children have a tendency to focus on short-term needs and desires and don’t always think about the long-term consequences of their actions. They simply don’t have enough impulse control to have a steady hand and don’t have enough life experience to be able to predict natural consequences the way an adult can. For these reasons and the many others discussed in the above article, it is often best for the parent to frame the decision with choices for the child so boundaries are set that will enable the child to make better decisions.