Parenting: How to help children make their own decisions

From Nine To Noon, 11:25 am on 30 May 2024

How do you encourage children to start making their own decisions? And at what age should they be able to do this with confidence?

First off, it's all about helping them build "decision-making scaffolding", education specialist Mark Osborne tells Nine to Noon.

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Photo: Unsplash

Mark Osborne is the founder of Leading Learning and has worked with schools throughout Australasia, North and South America, Europe and Asia.

The skills needed for decision-making are goal setting, planning, organising and managing time and resources, monitoring progress and reflection, Osborne says.

To foster these in your children, he recommends the following:

Don’t be a “snowplough parent”

The 'snowplough parent' tries to clear all obstructions and the blockages from a child's path to make their life go smoothly, Osborne says.

“We know that that just delays the inevitable as when they eventually leave home, they're going to need these skills.”

Build a skills scaffold

Imagine you're thinking about taking the dog for a walk and talk through your decision-making process, Osborne suggests.

"We might start with saying 'Well, okay, let's take the dog for a walk. What do we need to get done? We need to make sure that we've got all the things that we need in order to go for the dog walk."

Many considerations will be going through your head almost automatically, but making a checklist to verbalise will be the initial "scaffold" for modelling the process.

“We need to have a look out the window and see what the weather's doing. 

“We'll need the lead, won't we? And we'll probably need, if the weather's looking a bit dark, we'll need to need a raincoat."

As time goes on, you might then invite a young person into the decision-making process, Osborne says.

Eventually the scaffold won’t be needed and the child will have formed their own routine.

FAIL – First Attempt At Learning

The most important thing is not necessarily whether the child succeeds in their decision-making, he says, but what they learn along the way.

We need to create a "pro-learning" culture in schools and also in our families.

“If [their decision] didn't go according to plan, we can be asking things like 'How did that make you feel? Or what would you do differently next time? Or what did you learn as a result of that?' That's a model or a scaffold.”

Don't throw them in at the deep end

Our brains don't cope very well with anything too sudden, Osborne says.

“We’re actually much better at growing those neural pathways by trying things with gradually adjusting course.”

By gently removing the skills scaffolds, we encourage the child to make the decision-making process a habit, he says.

“We give the kids the language to be able to reflect, we provide it for them until they internalise it and use that themselves.”

I do, We do, You do

This is a common teaching technique that works well in the development of decision-making skills, Osborne says.

"I’ll pack your bag for the first time, then we move to the ‘we do’ so we do it together and there's a bit of a check.

"But then just to make sure that you're not leaning on me a little bit too much, move it over to the ‘you do’ now. Show me that you can do it independently.”