Decision Making: The First Step in the Process for Young Children

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Decision Making: The First Step in the Process for Young Children

We’ve all heard it…

“Do you want milk or juice?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want to wear your sparkly shoes or your fast, running shoes?”

“Yes.”

Young children often simply answer, “Yes”, when asked to choose between two things.

It can be cute. It can be endearing. It can be frustrating.

However, it illustrates one of the very earliest aspects of decision-making.

At the most basic level, decision-making entails making a choice. Later, decision-making skills grow to encompass predicting outcomes, considering consequences, and weighing risks and benefits. However, at its most basic level, decision-making involves making a simple choice between two things, and this is a skill that we can help our children to develop.

Initially, we need to limit the choices that we offer to a young child. Start by offering just two options.

When we offer the choice between two things, and the child responds with, “Yes,” help the child to think through the process. First, explain that the word ‘or’ means there are two options. Clarify what the two options are. Then explain that they must choose just one of those options.

For example, say, “That is an ‘or’ question. There are two choices. You can have milk OR juice, not both. Here is the milk. Here is the juice. Which one do you want?”

Before too long, this processing can be shortened to the simple reminder phrase, “That’s an ‘or’ question,” often accompanied by an affectionate chuckle. This will trigger the child to remember that he/she needs to differentiate between and select just one of the two offerings.

Remember, with young children, we need to initially limit the number of options we offer to just two, until the child is able to frequently respond appropriately without a prompt from us. After that, we can increase the number of choices to more than two.

It is important that we begin working with our young children to develop good decision-making skills. When young children make decisions, the consequences are usually inconsequential. It doesn’t really matter if the child chooses to drink milk or juice. It doesn’t really matter if the child chooses to wear the sparkly shoes or the fast, running shoes. These choices do not have the potential to be life-altering. They do not have the potential to cause harm.

So this is where we begin, in helping our children to learn the decision-making process… identifying and responding appropriately to ‘or’ questions.

“Do you want milk or juice?”

“Yes.”

Chuckle… “That’s an ‘or’ question.”

This was such a litany in my own family’s household, that this past week, when I asked my 40 year old son, “Would you like to stop by my house for dinner, or do you have other plans,” he answered, “Yes.” Then he slanted his eyes toward me and grinned.

I chuckled, and replied, “That’s an ‘or’ question.

“I wondered if you’d say that,” he responded, his grin widening. “Yes, I’ll come for dinner.”

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