The concept of making a decision tends to carry a lofty connotation. We naturally assume that something warranting the title of "decision" is a life-altering or monumental situation and certainly not a trivial or insignificant event. However, having the ability to make sound and confident decisions is a part of being a parent, worker, and responsible member of society.
In an ordinary day, we constantly face countless situations that require a determination of some varying degree. Whether choosing what to wear, what to eat, or how to structure your day, most people make hundreds of decisions effortlessly and without the conscious regard that a decision is being made. For some, learning how to make a decision and how to trust in one’s decision-making ability can be instinctual. For others making even the simplest of decisions can be a laborious, painstaking episode.
The signs of indecisiveness
Children who struggle with making decisions are often mislabeled as being fussy, attention seeking, difficult, or high maintenance. Parents become frustrated with a child who can’t decide what to eat for lunch and siblings are intolerant of someone who can’t decide where to sit in the car. Peers mistake indecisiveness for manipulation or moodiness and teachers find that a child who can’t decide between which pencil to use or which book to read often becomes confused or distracted.
Some teens and adults vacillate between two different floor plans for the living room furniture or which suit to purchase for hours — even days — while others find on the job decisions or decisions that involve being authoritative extremely tough. Often, it is not until adulthood that many realize their indecisiveness stems from a struggle to make decisions and not from the desire to gain attention.
An environment conducive to decisions
Because the ability to make a decision is not always an inherent trait, most children need to learn how to assess situations, determine their personal needs and the needs of the entire situation, and be able to identify what the options are in order to make a decision. Most households are stocked with a multitude of food, clothing, and toy options for children. Having so many options to choose from can be overwhelming for children, thus causing their decision making process to shut down.
A child who has troubles making a decision choosing what to eat for breakfast may be perceived as being picky because he’s not sure which cereal or yogurt to select. In reality, he’s torn between making a choice between a few favorites and something new he’s been looking forward to sampling.
By providing a blend of guidance, constructive choices, and reasonable consequences, you can foster a strong confidence in your child’s ability to make a decision. Beginning with small decisions such as what to eat for breakfast or what shirt to wear to school, your child can start to feel comfortable making some of his own decisions. Offering only two to three breakfast foods, t-shirts to wear, or books to read allows your child to have some control in making the determination, without feeling overwhelmed at having too many choices.
It can be tempting to make choices for children of all ages who struggle with making their own decisions. Resist automatically laying out his school clothes and encourage your child to use divergent thinking skills to make the final determination. Suggesting he eliminate one option at a time or look at characteristics of his choices helps a child take baby steps toward competent decision making.
Unless your child makes a decision that proves to be destructive or dangerous, allow him the freedom to experience consequences to some of his decisions. If he decides not to eat all of his dinner, he doesn’t get to enjoy dessert. If he decides to wear his brother’s favorite t-shirt, he has to wash it and apologize.
Boosting their confidence
Having a strong sense of self confidence is essential when making decisions. If a child is not confident in his abilities or instincts, he may not be willing to offer up himself and his ideas to the scrutiny that making a decision brings.
Supporting your child’s abilities and praising the fact that he’s made a decision are easily implemented boosts that provide confidence. “Nice job choosing the blue shirt” or “You made a good choice by opting for toast and yogurt” offer subtle reassurance that he’s capable of making good decisions.
Practice makes perfect
Being wholly confident in the ability to make decisions does not occur after a child successfully makes one or two decisions. A young person needs to realize there are decisions to be made in every area of his life. Deciding who to play with on the playground or what to eat for lunch provides the foundation for being able to make decisions of greater impact later in life.
Remind your child that it is normal to question or wonder if you’re making the right decision, but ultimately she should trust and rely in what she believes to be the right decision. Point out that she makes many decision every day and that every decision is practice for when she needs to concentrate on a decision.
When a child finally emerges from her room after agonizing over making a decision, having her decision picked apart can work against the constructive message you’re trying to yield. Receiving a critique of what clothes she decided to wear to school piles on more grief associated with making the decision instead of calling attention to areas needing improvement.
Use positive reinforcement to praise the fact that she made a decision before pointing out that she should make another attempt at getting dressed or deciding how to solve a problem. Phrases such as, “Let’s try making another choice” or “Do you think you should make another decision?” acknowledge her decision and gently offer the possibility she needs to rethink her choice.
This article was written by: Gina Roberts-Grey LCSWPhoto Credit: Jase Daniels