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?


Catherine February 14, 2011 at 9:01 pm

I really love this post. I think I unwittingly hamper this process when I try to hurry my kids to make a decision. This will make me more mindful of my approach and I intend to use all of these strategies. Thanks!

Amy February 14, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Thanks, Catherine! I hope some of these ideas are helpful to you and your kiddos. You can be sure I will be looking back at this post to remind myself of these strategies, too! :)

Deb February 15, 2011 at 4:21 am

This is a great post! My 2 daughters are very different and take after me and my dh separately. My younger daughter and I both suffer from anxiety and stress a lot. From very young we could see that she suffers in decision making (as do I – but not something she has witnessed etc so just comes from “her”). She struggles with everything from breakfast selection to what to ask for her birthday / gifts.

I have worked with her on understanding small decisions vs big ones so far and also make it clear when it is not critical decision making (meaning there is always tomorrow – like when she struggles to decide what DVD to watch I explain that we can watch A today and B another day – we own them and there is no reason to agonize over choosing things when you have the option other days – toys as well…)

recently I have been narrowing down breakfast choices with some success. She is not a big breakfast eater to begin with and yet still struggles (whereas my older daughter likes to eat the same bowl of cereal almost all year with porridge added in winter) so I now say smoothie or eggs? eggs or bagel? etc

will look at ways to add in your other ideas. thanks

brenda February 15, 2011 at 7:57 am

I have one impulsive who later regrets and the other who thinks for a while but is firm as concrete once she has made up her mind.

Very different. And they came from the same gene pool! :)

I really like the idea of the list making. That is a great idea.

Two Chicks and a Hen February 15, 2011 at 12:37 pm

My children are much younger than yours so we aren’t really there yet, but I think these are great ideas. I particularly like the idea of the list and the idea of “changing the script” which can really be applied to so many other scenarios as well.

Leslie February 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Thanks for these great ideas! What a helpful post! I have a child that could use some supportive tools for decision making and this may be just the ticket!

Bubbles and Mud Puddles February 15, 2011 at 9:12 pm

These are super great ideas.

Elise February 15, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Great news that your strategies are working. We are constantly working on “changing the script”.

Candace @ NaturallyEducational February 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm

What a great post! I shared on Twitter (@candaceapril) and Facebook (Naturally Educational)!

Modeling is key!

Teresa Clark February 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Great post. Thanks so much.

Angie @ Many Little Blessings February 20, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Love this post! We have one son that is very indecisive, and then gets anxious about it. I’ll have to print this out and work on some of it. Heck — he’s old enough (9) that I might just have him read it and then we can discuss it.

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