Helping children make decisions - Part 3

Decisions- they are made every day! Part 3 in this series explores the positive relationship youth have with adults and how adults can best support youth through the decision-making process.

Decisions - they are made every day!  Some are easy and some are hard, some take a lot of thought and some are made by instinct, some can be classified as good and others bad. No matter how someone derives at a decision, it’s a skill. Like many skills, decision-making takes practice and fine tuning. This series of articles is going to explore how, as adults, we best support and acknowledge children as they make decisions. 

The previous articles by Michigan State University Extension, Helping children make decisions- Part 1 explored the definition of decision-making, provides some resources for getting started with simple decision making, and gives a six-step guide to breaking down how to make a decision. And Helping children make decisions- Part 2 explored how to consider the period or stage of development a child is experiencing and match it accordingly to adult expectations for developing the skill of decision-making.

The University of Illinois Extension states in a Positive Youth Development: A Positive Relationship with a Caring Adult Meeting Plan Guide that youth are directly impacted by relationships with caring adults, and if the adult is outside the family, better social development and improved parental relationships occur. Furthermore, young people learn about different parenting styles and adult views from adults who are not their parents. They suggest that continued positive contact with those caring adults creates a mentoring, supportive relationship that nurtures the young people as they grow and develop.

The question remains: how do adults best support youth through the decision-making process? It’s important to create an environment where youth feel comfortable talking and discussing the problem or situation they need to make a decision about. In a document by the Sydney Institute of TAFE, Support Children in Learning About the Decision-Making Process, it is suggested that in order to encourage children in decision making and problem solving we should ensure children:

  • Feel safe to share their ideas and opinions
  • Know it is ok to make mistakes and they won’t be judged badly if they do
  • Know their ideas and judgments are valued
  • Have enough space and time to solve problems
  • Have flexible and open-ended materials that encourage problem solving rather than “one way” only
  • Have appropriate problems to solve

It is further suggested by the Sydney Institute of TAFE that when interacting with children we should use strategies and techniques that will help draw out their ideas and thoughts and support them in solving problems. Some tips to do so are:

  • Questioning: Open-ended questions allow children to explore their ideas.
  • Brainstorming: List all of the ideas and then eliminate the leas probably solutions.
  • Give choices: This ensures options are explored rather than limiting the children’s creative thinking.
  • Following through: Show the children that you value the decisions and choices they make.
  • Consider developmental abilities: Be aware of the child’s developmental level.
  • Developing problem solving skills: Assist children to consider a range of possibilities and develop flexible and creative ways of approaching challenges.

As stated in the article, Effective and ethical decision making - Part 1, decision-making is an important life skill for youth to gain. Michigan 4-H Youth Development Programs help youth develop this life skill through their 4-H projects and experiences. 4-H provides opportunities for youth to strengthen their decision-making skills through exhibiting projects, leading groups, participating in events and so much more. Be sure to view Effective and ethical decision making- Part 2 for more information on children’s decision-making skill development.

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