It’s easy to say, “I want my kids to know how to make decisions for themselves”, but it is often much harder to give up that control in the moment. When we focus on the long-term goals of raising kids to be healthy, happy and productive adults, it’s obvious that learning to make decisions is an important skill to master. Yet, we can fall into the trap of wanting a certain outcome and step in to make decisions that we could allow our kids to make. Here are some ways to grow their decision-making skills:

  • Start early: Your life will be easier if you allow your kids to make some decisions as it cuts down on conflict and allows them a sense of autonomy. Do you want to take a shower or a bath? Would you like broccoli or peas? These early decisions are only about personal preference, not about the outcome. Either way, the child has her bath or eats his vegetables and yet they have a say in the process.
  • Start small: This piggy-backs on the previous point, but the earliest decisions your child makes should be small and have minimal consequence. For example, letting your child pick out their outfit for the day (as long as it is weather appropriate). While it may be embarrassing to drop your child off in a crazy, multi-patterned outfit, you can remind yourself that no one thinks you put that combination together. This allows your child to develop a sense of personal autonomy in a low-stakes environment.
  • Personal preference, not safety or values: The decisions your children and early adolescents make should be about personal preference, but as their parent, you still have a say on safety and value driven choices. Your child wears a seat belt and does their homework because you are in charge of their safety and you value education. Yet, as kids grow, they should have input into their extra-curricular activities. You can set limits on time and budget, but allowing them to choose soccer over basketball or violin instead of piano gives them an outlet for their personal expression.
  • Supporting (or tolerating) their choices: This is where it gets emotionally tricky for adults. Maybe your daughter excels at soccer and she decides she wants to try softball after finishing out the current soccer season. Maybe everyone in the family plays an instrument, but after a few years of struggling with the piano, your son says he’d rather take an art class. Try to remember there isn’t a right or wrong choice, but rather, different choices. Try to walk that fine line of talking through the choice without trying to influence the outcome. You want to teach your child how to evaluate all the factors so decisions aren’t impulsive.

You might fear your child or teen will regret their choice, so the tendency is to override it. However, regretting a small choice and learning from it is much better than not knowing how to make a choice. The choices your child will be faced with will only get more complicated (where to go to college, who they date, what career they will have). Learning how to make self-aware choices will set them on a path for leading an authentic life.