We’ve all made choices we regret. And if we could go back in time, we’d gladly correct these unfortunate mistakes. Therefore, we’ll naturally want our children to avoid making the same mistakes we did.
Notes Evonne Lek, a family therapist at Reconnect, “If we instil strong moral values in kids and they make wise decisions on the basis of these values, they won’t be as susceptible to peer pressure. They’ll know the harm that comes from bad decisions, and will make their own choices that are not based on wanting others to like them or fitting in with their peer group.”
Of course, having good judgement doesn’t happen overnight. You’ll need time, effort and perseverance to teach your child how to make smart choices. Try these guide you along.
If you want junior to think carefully before doing something harmful, inform them of the real-world consequences of such actions… Explain to them the life-threatening effects of smoking and consuming too much alcohol.
1. Communicate with your child
So that you can guide your child, there must first be an open line of communication between the both of you. This way, you can better understand what their drives their behaviour and issues they might be struggling with when making decisions.
Lek cites a case in which a family came to therapy after parents caught their child stealing from them. “The child knew that stealing was wrong, but felt that her allowance wasn’t enough. So, she decided to steal rather than talk to her parents.”
She points out that things could have different if the parents had been willing to talk to their child and be receptive of her point of view. “Once we had therapy, there was more openness, and the parents agreed to increase her allowance and grant her a bit more autonomy over her spending.”
2. Teach them good moral values
One helpful way to guide your child in making wise choices is to use strong moral values as a basis for decision-making.
Lek says, “Explain to your child how certain decisions exemplify that trait in you. For example, tell them something like, ‘If I choose to submit my work on time, it shows how responsible I am.’”
To give your child more autonomy over their decision-making, let them decide which three values are most important to them, then encourage them to make choices based on these values.
3. Expose junior to the real world
Every poor decision has consequences, some of which are way more detrimental than others. If you want junior to think carefully before doing something harmful, inform them of the real-world consequences of such actions.
For example, explain to them the life-threatening effects of smoking and consuming too much alcohol, and describe how these have affected older relatives or friends you know.
However, Lek warns parents against scaring their offspring into making sound decisions, noting “Parents should be mindful of using the consequences as scare tactics, for example, telling kids, ‘If you do drugs, you’ll definitely go to jail’…people don’t always make decisions based on fear.”
Instead of employing scare tactics, encourage your child to make decisions based on their values, Lek emphasises. If responsibility is important to them, they are more likely to make good decisions such as declining a cigarette, as they would want to look after their own health and well-being.
4. Model good decision-making
Sure, this isn’t easy ― we’re all imperfect human beings after all. But when you do slip up, show your child that you can bounce back from these mistakes.
Lek advises that you be compassionate to and forgive yourself rather than wallow in self-pity or despair. “Also, talk to your child about how you have learnt from your mistakes and now make smarter choices as a result. This shows your child that there is always room for growth and change.”
5. Let your child make mistakes
Noting that because many parents want to rescue their children from potential mistakes, they often step in too quickly when they feel their child is going to make a bad choice, Lek observes. “But if parents are always intervening, their children may frequently rely on them to make decisions on their behalf.”
So, if you want your child to make wise decisions on their own, guide rather than direct their actions. You can warn them what might happen if they choose to do something a certain way, but don’t make them feel guilty or say “I told you so” every time they make a mistake.
Love your child unconditionally and accept them for who they are, even when they make wrong decisions...they’ll be more likely to open up to you when they are in a dilemma.
6. Explore different options for handling problems
When we don’t talk through our thought process, we often think we have only one option for dealing with a situation, Lek observes. “But when we speak to others, we find out that there are actually a lot more choices available.”
As such, listen to your child and encourage them to verbalise their decision-making process. Then, explore various options for handling problems.
For instance, if someone hits or bullies them, tell them that retaliating isn’t the only option. They can also either walk out of the room or tell their teacher, Lek suggests. Once your child understands that there are multiple ways to handle a situation, they are more likely to make better decisions.
7. Let your child know you trust and believe in them
Love your child unconditionally and accept them for who they are, even when they make wrong decisions. This helps build a relationship of trust, and they’ll be more likely to open up to you when they are in a dilemma.
Ultimately, make sure to form a close relationship with your child. Do also let them know that you trust their judgement, and that they can come to you for support when they muck things up.
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