Not everyone finds it easy to make decisions. In fact, look some grownups suffer terribly over making a commitment to a purchase, price a person or an activity. “What if it’s the wrong choice?” “What if other people will laugh at me/think I’m dumb for making this choice?” “What if it turns out to be a very costly error?” These kinds of questions can paralyze decision makers. Exhausting second-guessing, ailment rumination and intensive research make decision-making unpleasant and anxiety provoking for this group.
For decision-challenged folks, the anguish can continue long after the commitment is made. “I shouldn’t have bought this one. The other one would have been better. Now I can’t take it back and it’ll be all wrong forever.” “Maybe I can take it back or back out of it and choose what I should have chosen before.” Self-recrimination and blame color the world of poor decision-makers. No one wants their child to suffer the life-long pain of struggling with decisions.
Helping Kids Decide
Parents can play a role in helping their kids make confident decisions or in fostering decision insecurity. Decision insecurity is fostered by offering frequent negative feedback to the child. “That sweater doesn’t go with that skirt.” “You should play with so & so more often.” “I don’t understand why you like that author.” The child begins to think “Maybe Mom is right; I don’t know how to dress/who to play with/what to read.” When an authority figure like a parent decides what is supposed to be appealing and what is not supposed to be appealing, a child can easily lose confidence in his or her ability to make that call. Parents should save criticism for when it really matters.
When it comes to matters of personal preference, individual taste should be encouraged rather than discouraged. Personal preference is personal; there is no right or wrong. One person may like a particular painting while another despises the same piece of art. One youngster may like ketchup on his peanut butter sandwich while another would gag at the thought. However, a parent who wants to help her child be confident enough to decide matters of personal preference by him or herself, will be careful to encourage that confidence. “Why, ketchup on peanut butter is quite original Zack! You will probably be a gourmet cook one day who invents all kinds of new delicacies!”
Trouble making decisions can be aggravated by critical parents. However, like all forms of anxiety, genes play a role as well. Adults and children with serious difficulties in making decisions are likely to be people whose genetic make-up made them particularly vulnerable to critical parents.
Most families have either a set of depression type genes or a set of anxiety type genes or both, running through their family trees. Thus most individuals have a tendency to some degree of negativity or worry. This tendency is reinforced by parents who model negativity and worry by expressing these feelings out loud, including the expression of critical remarks. Parents can be critical because they are anxious. They are worried that their child’s perceived poor decision may have serious negative consequences. What will happen if the child goes out in public with the unmatched outfit? What will happen if he continues to put ketchup on peanut butter sandwiches? The parent, so eager to save her child pain, accidentally increases the child’s suffering by causing the child to become uncertain.
Sometimes a child’s poor choices do end up causing difficulty, embarrassment, financial loss or other trouble. However, this is true of some of the choices that anyone of any age will make. The error itself needs to be welcomed rather than reprimanded. “I told you that wasn’t a good idea!” is not a helpful remark to make to a youngster whose poor decision results in a loss of some kind. Rather parents can offer more supportive and less traumatic comments, “You made a choice and sometimes it works out the way you hope it will and sometimes it doesn’t – that’s just how it goes. It happens to your father and I all the time!” Welcoming errors as part of the decision-making process allows children to continue to take the risk of making a decision. They learn that it is not the end of the world if the decision turns out badly, whereas those children who are made to feel that poor decisions are disastrous may have a lot of angst about making decisions. Similarly, the courage to make a decision is more important than the decision itself. A child who picks out a color for her bedroom wall can be encouraged as an interior-decorator-in-the-making whether or not the parent likes the color in question.
Rewarding decision-making behavior can help kids become confident decision makers.