There is a question every child who has ever gone to school has asked in some form during their education: “When am I ever going to use this in real life?”
They kind of have a point. Not that learning math and science and the humanities aren’t important, but there are other subjects that would be more beneficial in every aspect of their growth and development - foundational knowledge and skills that students need but generally don’t get in a school setting.
Children would be well-served if schools were required to teach mind skills. This would include:
- how to develop good habits
- critical thinking
- information and media literacy
- behavioral science
- metacognition and mindfulness
And, of course, my favorite topic - decision performance.
Decision performance 101
You could argue that it is the parents’ job to teach their children these basic life skills. That’s true to a degree, but a more deliberate and structured approach would leave less to chance and besides - most parents could clearly stand to improve their skills in these areas themselves.
However, a Decision Performance class won’t be coming to a school near you anytime soon, so below are some tips for teaching your own youngsters how to make better decisions. (Keep in mind that your approach will vary based on the age of the child.)
1) Be patient and consistent in giving your kids opportunities to make good thoughtful decisions. Early childhood expert, Lorri Fabry, says “Every child is different and develops in their own time, but for all children, learning to make good decisions takes repetition and plenty of practice. Start slowly, and help them to explore their choices gradually.”
2) Recognize that the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is still developing in young kids, but their emotional and reactive amygdala is already ramped up and going strong. That means their natural inclination is to react impulsively to situations rather than pausing to make a thoughtful decision. Help them practice putting a time delay between the urge to respond and deciding how to respond.
3) Allow them to make bad decisions unless the decision will be harmful to them or someone else. Let them fail. Then gently review the outcome and discuss if and how a bad result could have been avoided with a different decision. Realizing they made a mistake can be tough on young egos, so emphasize that even though knowing they made a bad decision feels bad, it is actually awesome! It means they learned something useful and will make a better decision next time.
4) Be aware of and talk about decisions you and your child see other people make. Discuss the quality of the decision and what the consequences were. Even the decisions of fictional characters on tv or movies can be examined. When it comes to real people, though, make sure your child knows to avoid telling other people what they think of their decisions (unless their feedback is requested).
5) Peer pressure and the bombardment of bad ideas from popular culture can wreak havoc on a child’s ability to make good decisions. Parenting psychologist Jim Taylor Ph.D. says that parents must instill a strong sense of right and wrong and clear consequences in order to prevent children from making poor decisions too often.
“Popular culture short-circuits your children's decision making by pushing their "hot buttons" related to peer acceptance, physical attractiveness, and stimulation. When these hot buttons are pushed, children who are poor decision makers are ready prey to the inevitable bad decisions when they listen to popular culture.”
6) Encourage your children not to beat themselves up when they make a bad decision. And of course, don’t you be too hard on them either! Tell them about some bad decisions you have made and how it’s okay to screw up and to learn from their mistakes.
7) Hug them. It has nothing to do with decision making, but still. You don’t need a reason.
Remember - kids will be kids, so let them be kids. Enjoy their childhood with them and set them up for success. When should you start? Yesterday.
Think well and be well.
- Steve Haffner
Want to learn more about improving your decision performance?
Click here for my free book, 7 Strategies for Making Better Decisions