"Judgment develops from experience. Good judgment develops from bad experience."
Many adults are crippled with indecision when faced with difficult choices. Others, worse yet, make self-destructive choices and repeatedly demonstrate poor judgment. But no one is born with good judgment and the ability to make wise decisions. Good judgment and decision-making skills develop from experience combined with reflection.
Your goal is to give your child experience in making decisions, and make sure she has the opportunity to reflect on them and learn. Six strategies to help your child develop good judgment:
Practice makes perfect. Give your child practice making choices even before she begins talking and she'll never have a problem making decisions.(Who cares if the stripes and flowers clash? She thinks she looks like a rainbow. And if other people can't figure out that she dressed herself, you don't really care about their opinion of your parenting, do you?)
Be clear about his span of control. Emphasize what he has the right to make decisions about, and what areas you as the parent retain the right to exert control over.
With toddlers: "Yes, I guess you may wear your superman outfit again, although you've worn it every day this week. You're in charge of your own clothes. But you'll need to change before we go to services, because there we dress up to show respect. And you'll need to brush your teeth before we leave the house."
With preteens: "You can invite your friends for Friday night dinner if you want, but you're expected to have dinner with the family on Friday night as usual. You can either go to the movies with your friends after dinner on Friday, or on Saturday."
Consciously help your child develop good judgment. Many people never develop good judgment because their experience isn't accompanied by reflection. Help him to make decisions consciously ("How will you decide what piece to play for the recital?") and to think through the possible repercussions of various choices before he makes them ("I wonder if you'll feel too pressured about getting your homework done if you add another after-school activity.")
Just as important, offer her the opportunity to reflect on how her decisions worked out ("I know you were worried about having a threesome this afternoon. Are you glad you invited Clarisse to join you and Ellie for the playdate?")
Model decision making. Share how and why you make decisions from the time your child is tiny. ("I think I'll bring an umbrella on our walk. It looks like rain." "I'm going to try the salmon; it's really good for you." "I'd like our family to help with the drive for school supplies; all children deserve a good education, and this is one way to help.")
Know that it's ok for your child to make bad decisions. He's still learning about himself as well as about life. It's just more opportunity for reflection and the development of good judgment, as long as you help him consider afterwards how things could have been different if he had made different choices. Teens have more decision making latitude, and they're bound to make some bad decisions. Just try to resist the universal impulse to say "I told you so," and they'll learn from them.
Give your children control of their own decision-making as it becomes age appropriate. What's age appropriate? The list below will give you a frame of reference, but obviously, you'll need to adapt this chart to your own child and your family circumstances. Remember to slowly build the degree of freedom and responsibility you offer your child, giving them as much help as they need to handle each level until they master it comfortably.
Each section covers a number of years; children in the lowest ages of that range are just beginning to handle the listed items.
Toddlers can be in charge of:
Preschoolers (3-5) can be in charge of:
Elementary age children (6 to 9) can be in charge of:
Tweens (10-12) can be in charge of:
Early Adolescents (13-15) can be in charge of:
Dr. Laura Markham