Teaching your child to make good choices is crucial to social and emotional development.
Life is filled with choices.
Chocolate or vanilla? Mountains or beach? Blue or green? Some choices are easy to make and have little impact on life in the big picture.
Other choices are really difficult and there are choices that can reverberate throughout a lifetime.
Which friends to associate with. Whether to be kind or to bully. To lead or to follow.
We all want the very best for our children, and teaching your child to make good choices early on is one of the best things you will ever do for them.
Choices have consequences.
The first step to making good choices is understanding that choices have consequences.
Allow your child to experience natural consequences of his choices unless it is a consequence that could physically harm him. Just like adults, children learn from their mistakes.
When you discipline your child, make sure he or she understands the reason. Talk with them about the choice they made. Explain that “Because you did this, then this has to happen.”
Even young children can grasp cause and effect.
If a child stops to think: “if I leave the yard without permission, then I will get a spanking”, it will help him to make the right choice.
(Spanking is only one of many ways to discipline. Most of the time, it can be used sparingly as a discipline technique once children understand that it is an option. For more on appropriate discipline read “Time, Love and Discipline”.)
Kids usually want to do the right thing! It’s all about stopping and thinking!
Teach your child to making good choices by instructing them to:
Do the right thing.
Thinking It Through
As you teach your child to make good choices, a great strategy is to equip them with self-questioning skills to help them consider the impact of their choices and possible consequences.
Teach your child to make good choices by asking: “If I do this, could I get into trouble?”
Most kids don’t really want to get into trouble. But lots of kids are very impulsive.
In teaching your child to make good choices, it helps to remind them to consider that getting into trouble could be a consequence of their actions.
That moment that they pause to think and make the choice can make all the difference.
Teach your child to make good choices by asking: “If I do this, could I get hurt or hurt someone else?”
Most kids don’t stop to consider danger before they act.
But they can learn to do this.
In teaching your child to make good choices, it is helpful to drill into them to look around them and consider any possible dangers.
When they truly understand that they or someone around them could be hurt, chances are they will make the right decision.
Teach your child to make good choices by asking: “If I do this, will it make anyone mad, or hurt their feelings?”
It’s never too early to learn to consider others.
Encourage your child to put himself in the other person’s shoes.
Children who learn empathy early on will have healthier relationships and fewer problems in getting along with others throughout life.
And when they are older, teach your child about to make good choices by asking: “If I do this, could it shorten my life or shatter my dreams?”
Older children and teenagers need to think beyond the immediate impact of a choice to all the possible long-term consequences.
Whether or not to have sex, to drink or use drugs, to drive the speed limit or break the law are all choices they will likely be faced with at some point.
And they need to know how to put it in perspective.
If this thing I am about to do could possibly shorten my life or shatter my dreams, is it really worth it?
Being able to visualize and see beyond the moment helps kids to make sound decisions.
Although we typically think of consequences as a negative thing, it is important to consider and to teach our children that there are also positive consequences to good choices.
- The consequences of studying hard may be getting good grades, an award on awards day, or praise from parents and teachers.
- The consequences of doing good deeds or showing kindness are feeling good about yourself and being well-liked by others.
- The consequences of doing your chores might be an allowance or simply a feeling of accomplishment in knowing you have made a contribution to the family.
- The consequences of consistently doing the right thing are that your parents will trust you and you will probably have more freedom.
These are just a few examples of positive consequences. But kids need to realize there is always cause and effect to their actions.
Positive or negative, consequences are reality.
Even young children can understand choices and consequences.
If I do THIS, then THIS happens, etc.
Begin teaching them early on.
Give them a thinking guide to help them in making good choices.
Explain consequences using examples from daily life that they are familiar with.
Let them know that the right thing to do is not always the easiest thing to do, the most fun thing to do, or even what you want to do.
And above all, make sure they know that they are responsible for themselves and their choices.
Read more on Raising Responsible Kids.
Teach your child to make good choices, and it will serve him well for a lifetime!