Three Questions to Promote Decision Making Skills in a Child or Teen

Teaching children how to make good decisions is an important task for responsible and engaged parents. However, while we often say to our kids things like “learn to think” and “learn to make good decisions” what we really mean is “figure out what I think and parrot that back to me.” If we do this often enough we increase the odds that our kids will learn to let others do their thinking for them.

One method for promoting independent thinking can be used in moments when your child or teen comes to you with a request that you are inclined to deny. Instead, of just saying no, try asking yourself three questions first:

This thing that your child or teen wishes to do, does it…

1.     …pose an undue risk of physical harm?

2.     …pose an undue risk of psychological harm?

3.     …unduly tax your resources (e.g., time and money)?

If the answer to all three questions is “no” then there could be significant value in saying “yes.”

I’ve witnessed multiple examples of parents being at war with their child or teen over things that were not physically or psychologically harmful and which did not place an excessive tax on the parent’s resources. One dad was at war with his son over the color of his son’s shirts (he believed that the pastel colors his son preferred made him look too effeminate). One mom was cast in the role of warden, and her 17 year old in the role of inmate, because the mother would not allow her daughter to wear lipstick.  In each instance, the behavior the parent was trying to forbid was not physically harmful, psychologically harmful or costly. In each instance, the parent deciding to relax the restriction did a great deal to promote peace in the relationship.

I would argue that this is a sign that a parent is promoting good decision making skills in his or her child or teen: said kid sometimes does things, with approval, that drives the parent crazy (and which is not harmful).  So, try these three questions the next time one of your progeny approaches you with a request and you find a refusal forming on your lips. Getting in the habit of doing so could end up supporting an important parenting agenda.

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