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Watching Your Child Make Decisions (and What to Do When You Disagree)

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Watching my son in the rear-view mirror while I drove away and left him on the steps with his counselor for his first week of camp was hard.  I cried until I reached the end of the dirt road and could see his hand waving and the brave smile on his face fade away.  “I’m a good mom. I’ve been waiting a long time for this.” Will he behave? Will he remember to take a shower every day and be respectful to adults? My heart knew this boy had trouble making the best decisions, and although I knew we would miss one another, my concern was really about his choices and potential reactions to others.

It all worked out.  I picked up my son a week later and heard stories that took me by surprise– tales of adventure and great choices.  We had wonderful discussion about some of his “could have been better choices,“ and I told him how proud I was that he was showing great responsibility in thinking ahead.  Overall, it was me who had the toughest time, but he reminded me that I had taught him to be responsible, so I should learn to trust him.

That is the name of the game: train, teach, grow, and trust. And then they grow up and out and you watch, wait, and wonder. Little by little our children take steps towards independence and our roles shift from the instructor to the observer.  It feels as if this happens overnight.  And it does, trust me. The “why?” question we hear on repeat as they grow from toddlers to teens slowly slips off the radar of their vocabulary, and it becomes apparent that it is time to watch them make their own decisions. They grow from asking “why,” to “why not?” And it is here where we have to make a shift in our parenting.

It is a celebration when they succeed and an arrow straight to the heart to watch them fail. So, the question we all struggle with is, “Do we tell them what to do or let them learn?” We must guide our children in the way they should go. This is why we are their parents. Here are a few thoughts to consider while working to teach your children to make wise choices and improve their decision-making skills:

What Not To Say To Children As They Begin To Make Their Own Choices:

“I told you so.”

“This wouldn’t have happened if…”

“When will you learn?”

“See what happens when…”

Milestones in Making Decisions

Toddlers: Still need our wisdom and guidance.  The goal for your toddler will be first time obedience.  Their world will expand into new freedoms and celebrations of their own choices when they are able to characterize obedience at the first instruction and not with repetition of requests.

Middlers: Are ready to spread their wings. You will notice they feel stifled and childish when they are treated without a listening ear and respect about their thoughts and opinions.  Allowing small choices that are not relevant to safety and health are a great way to segway into independent choices. Middlers begin to “push the envelope,” because they want to show us that they are ready for more space and responsibility.  It is our job to use this time to model and train them, preparing them for the next big decision.

Teen Years:

The teen years do not need to take us by surprise. Think about this when your toddler is pushing the limits and you have a decision to make.  Do not wait until they are teens to begin training in discernment, wisdom vs. foolishness and responsibility. The teen years are formidable in allowing our children to live out a lot of what they have learned growing up.  Give them guidance and keep tabs on them without constant nagging.  The most important ingredient to decision-making for our teens is loving them even when they make poor choices. This does not mean permissiveness, but more of a trust relationship that will allow them to learn and live right along with you. Your reaction can dictate how much they let you love them.

What Will We Do When Our Children Make Bad Choices:

  1. Pray for your children all of the time. Be specific.
  2. Ask them if they would like to talk. Do not just throw your opinions at them.
  3. Give them alternative choices.
  4. Remind them of their boundaries.
  5. Ask them what their advice might be for someone else making hard decisions.
  6. Remind them that parents are around for their protection.
  7. Spend time with them talking and listening. Listen more.
  8. Expect them to live with their consequences (even when you want to fix it for them).
  9. Expect them to own their choices and use it as a pattern to not repeat in the future.
  10. Require follow-up, repentance, and ownership of their poor choices.

Moms, if I could leave one little nugget here for us all to think about as we raise our children, it would be this:

Teach your children while they are young what wisdom looks like and when they see foolishness later, they will run from it.

What hard choices are your children working through right now?  What will you do?

by September McCarthy


What do you think about when you make a decision?

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