Decisions, and why they are good for your kids


Decisions By Gillian Kriter

Imagine a day this past summer.

I am feeling tired and overextended.

The kids and I have to leave in 10 minutes and I still need to pack the travel bag, dress them in the clothes I picked out, brush their teeth, help them put on their shoes, and we haven’t even finished the lunch I just made. Then my 6 year old son’s fork drops on the floor and he looks right at me and says “mom, get that for me.” I felt like if it was his straw that fell, it would be the last. It was truly an AHA! moment for me, realizing I had been doing way too much that my children were fully capable of doing on their own. And more importantly, that I was inadvertently denying them the chance to feel empowered to even make the attempt.

On average, adults make about 35,000 decisions a day, while kids make only 3,000.

But what may be worth thinking about is how do kids get from 3,000 to 35,000 if parents swoop in and take over many of these choices for them? OR, how only a generation ago it was very common for kids to make certain decisions that are now more often micro-managed by overly helpful parents? Think about significant transitions like starting grade 1, reaching the age to be unsupervised at home (and even to start caring for younger kids/siblings), starting high school, or young adults moving out to live on their own. Our kids don’t reach a certain age and just “know” how to handle new decisions. They need to learn behaviours and build on age appropriate problem solving in order to become more prepared, practiced, and resilient.

I hear from many educators that building problem solving skills is an essential life skill.

So much so that some schools include “problem solving skills” in their school mandate. Thinking back to my own Generation X childhood, I recall playing until streetlights came on, never interrupting an adult at a social event for anything I couldn’t solve myself (usually this guaranteed we would end up staying later!), biking everywhere I needed to go before I got my licence, and feeling proud about managing my own schedule of assignments in my paper planner (it was the 90s after all). Whether you believe the theory or not, many experts agree we live in the safest time in history, and Canada is one of the safest places in the world. And yet, over time, kids of all ages have become heavily reliant on their parents for a multitude of daily decisions that they are fully capable of safely making on their own.

This has inspired me to share some simple and realistic ideas for children of various ages to build problem solving confidence.

Remember, let them choose and complete these tasks entirely on their own. With any luck, the initial investment of setting these new habits and expectations may eventually mean more spare time and less extra decisions for YOU!

1) Pick out clothes
2) Get breakfast (eg get bowl and spoon and pour milk into cereal)
3) Set a timer and brush their teeth
4) Spend their own money on a friend’s birthday gift they pick out
5) Pack lunch
6) Feed a family pet
7) Wash the car
8) Get a library card
9) Pack an overnight bag
10) Buy groceries
11) Prepare a family meal
12) Open a bank account
13) Walk/bike to school
14) Keep track of their own school assignment schedule
15) Pay their cell phone bill

Problem solving practice develops a child’s independence, creativity, and critical thinking.

But if you are feeling concerned about your child’s social, emotional, or physical limits, ask yourself what could failure realistically look like or lead to. Let this help you decide if a decision is actually beyond their capacity, or just outside of your comfort zone. You may be surprised how this visualization exercise helps you realize the failed outcome wouldn’t be as bad as you thought. Remember that the possible mistakes could lead to some great learning. That being said, be sure to take the time to make informed and conscientious choices that make sense for your unique child and family. Consult a medical opinion or counselling if needed. You can also visit the Canadian Pediatric Society website to learn more about child and youth emotional wellness.

Since the silver spoon dropped this summer and I made a more sincere effort to motivate my kids to problem solve more.

I can honestly say they almost always take pleasure in trying things on their own. I am even getting better about keeping my Type A personality in check and celebrating “their way” of doing something even when it takes longer or is unpredictable. (For example: I have become really flexible about what “folded” laundry looks like). The other day Emma dropped her bowl of applesauce and as it exploded everywhere both kids exclaimed, “Don’t worry mommy we will help!”

My first thought was it would be so much easier for me to mop it up in a jiffy, but I stopped myself, and instead said thank you to my little volunteers.

They raced joyfully (no kidding!) to get their own wet cloths to clean the spill. “Do you want to go bike riding after snack” I ask, smiling proudly. To myself I think maybe it’s time to take off Emma’s training wheels…and today I will let Benjamin pick our route.

If you are wondering how to help your kids feel capable of making their own decisions, check out “7 Days to Peace”, a free 7 day video series just for you!

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