Take your pick

Give kids the skills to make good decisions and stick with them.

Learning Stages

By Dr. Neil Schmidt


Dr. Neil Schmidt is former superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (Santa Monica, CA), and an acknowledged leader in national and state school reform. He is the father of two children and lives in Fillmore, California.

With so much emphasis being placed on academic basics in schools these days, and more and more prescriptive teaching taking place, we are providing less and less time to help students learn to make decisions for themselves. Learning to be a good decision maker (thoughtful, intelligent) is an important skill students must develop for future success. In order to become good decision makers, children must have opportunities to make choices, good or bad, and to learn from the consequences of those decisions.

Every day, as adults, we make hundreds of decisions. Not all of them are important, but certainly many are. We must help our children learn the process of making good choices from a very early age. If we do not allow them the opportunity to do this, they will not have the tools necessary to make responsible decisions as they grow, and will likely fall into the role of "following the leader," something no parent wants for their child.

Make the decision to help your children

Here are a few examples of things you, as a parent, might do with your children to nurture the development of good decision-making skills:

Instead of just telling your children what to wear, or letting them simply choose something from the closet, invite them to listen to the morning weather report, or look outside with you and discuss what they think the weather will be that day. Let them make a decision about what to wear based on what clothes would best suit the weather conditions.

Talk with your children about why they think it is important to be prepared for school each day. Let them decide what they need to be ready to go in the morning, and help them make a plan they can follow each day to accomplish that goal.

Talk with your children about what makes a good friend. Why do they think they are friends to others? Do they think those things are important to being a good friend? What things do they look for when choosing a friend? Are those things really important, or are some of their own good qualities more important when making a lasting friendship?

Role play situations where your children have to decide whether or not to go along with their friends when they know that what is being planned is not the right thing to do. How can they respond to the situation in a positive way? Could they help their friends make a better decision?

Discuss with your children what their reaction might be to someone at school who is trying to bully them or a friend. Have your children come up with some possible solutions to the problem, and have them make a plan they could live with to resolve the problem.

Who makes the decisions about what programs your children watch on TV and how much time they are allowed to watch? You must allow them the opportunity to make at least some of the choices for their viewing. Set parameters, together, about the kinds of things they may choose, and then give them the chance to decide on programs. Try having them make a weekly schedule of programming for your final approval.

Finally, let your children know that they can always come to you for help when making tough decisions, and also let them know that you trust them to make the right decision by allowing them opportunities to make thoughtful, well-informed choices for themselves.

Learning to be a good decision maker is a skill for life. If we want our children to be motivated participants in life, we must empower them with the ability to make well thought out decisions. Stop planning every moment of your children's day and start allowing them to make choices about their extra curricular activities. Given the opportunity to make these choices, your children will feel good about their ability to make decisions on their own, and you will feel confident that you have given them an important gift for life.