Building Decision-Making Skills

by Amy on February 14, 2011

My six-year-old has become a bundle of indecisiveness. The I don’t knows come out of her mouth like a reflex or knee-jerk reaction.

From simple things (like what to eat for breakfast) to more involved ones (like what to spend her money on), she is really struggling with the deciding process. It also seems to really bother her that she can’t answer a question or choose something immediately – picture whining, crying, and collapsing in frustration.

I happen to think that being able to confidently make decisions is an important life-skill, so I try to model my strategies for making decisions as they come up, big and small.

Here are some of the things I am weaving-in to our daily life to help both my girls strengthen their decision-making skills – most of these can be adapted for use with toddlers or teens, too!

Think Time

This is the skill I work on the most with Delaney – it seems like the most basic, but for some reason she feels pressure to make decisions immediately. If you hang around our house for any amount of time, you would probably hear me say, “It’s okay to think about it. Take your time and let me know when you are ready.”

We also talk about the amount of think time being proportionate to the “size” of the decision. Small decisions=less think time; big decisions=lots of think time. Choosing what to wear today shouldn’t require as much think time as choosing what color to paint your room. This must be why I still haven’t decided on a new sofa!

Lists, Lists, and more Lists

Both of my girls like seeing their choices in writing (or pictures). So, together we have made many lists like Things I Can Play By Myself and Snacks I Like. We tape the list up in an appropriate location and leave it up as long as it is useful. Sometimes, just writing the list is enough to organize their thoughts and they don’t even need to use it after that.

Narrowing Down Choices

Sometimes, I step in and limit the choices, just like I did when the girls were younger. For example, offering two choices for breakfast seems to be more helpful than saying, “What do you want for breakfast?”

Delaney is also learning to narrow down choices for herself – if she can get it down to two choices, she usually does her own version of eeny, meeny, miny, moe to decide. :)

Changing the Script

We’ve been practicing some positive self-talk, too. When Delaney is having trouble deciding what she wants to do, she tends to say things like, “I don’t know” or “I can’t think of anything!”

I’m modeling more positive responses and self-talk, such as, “I’d like to think about it for a minute” or “I’m not sure yet, but I’ll let you know when I decide.”

I’m also encouraging her to say to herself, “I am a good thinker!”

Pros & Cons

For bigger decisions, I have already introduced making a pros and cons list. We talk about and write down pluses and minuses for the choices. Again, just the process of talking and writing seems to help the decision-making come easier.

Update: I started writing this post a couple months ago. We have been using these strategies when necessary, and I have noticed a big improvement in Delaney’s approach to making decisions. She does not always make quick decisions, but she is also not frustrated by the process of thinking about something and making a choice. Just another sign that she is growing and changing!

Are your kids impulsive or do they like to think things through? Have any decision-making tips to share?

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