Mallory Welsh, LCSW

I work with many clients who struggle with making tough decisions in their daily routines, whether it is something as simple as choosing between bananas or apples at the grocery store, or something as big as a significant career change. When working with these clients, I use a bit of psychodynamic theory, asking them about their childhood and how they made decisions when they were younger. Many times, they report that their parents tried to make decisions for them as opposed to allowing them to think on their own. Some of these clients also have young children and are hoping they can help guide them into make their own decisions so they can feel more confident and independent when they become older.

I recently read an article from The Washington Post, “Six things parents can do to raise kids to be confident decision-makers,” in which author Kate Rope describes this very topic. The article is based on Katie Hurley, who is a child and adolescent psychotherapist, and Emily Green, who is a child and family therapist, and discusses how parents can help their children become independent thinkers and decision-makers.

Below is a simple guide based on Hurley and Green’s clinical recommendations.

  • Display empathy, but don’t become a solution-finder. It is important to acknowledge when your child is struggling with age-appropriate decisions, as opposed to just simply making the decision for them. This could look like just pausing with them and saying, “This must be a tough decision for you.”
  • Help them listen to themselves. This looks like using the phrases “seems like” and “sounds like” when your child is making a tough decision. Using these phrases allows the child to reflect how they could be feeling when making their decisions. Doing this also allows the parent to teach their child there is a process when making decisions and they do not always need to make a decision in one second.
  • Maintain structure. Structure is so very crucial for children. While teaching children, they do not need to make a decision in one second is important, it is also important to give them appropriate time frames for decisions depending on what the decision is. Some decisions may only allow for 10 minutes, while other decisions may allow for an entire day for your child think about it. You can also provide ways you have made tough decisions such as a pros and cons list.
  • Practice makes perfect. Give your child opportunities to make these decisions, whether it is allowing them to pick out which fruit or vegetable they want for dinner or what gift they want to get their sibling for a birthday. As your child gets older, continue letting them make decisions for themselves based on age-appropriate levels.
  • Incorporate reflection time. After your child makes a decision, encourage them to reflect on their final decision. This encourages them to process when they make both good and bad decisions. If they didn’t like the decision they made, they can begin to align with what their goals/beliefs are at an early age.
  • Living with regret. Everyone makes bad decisions. If, after reflection time, your child is still struggling with coping with a bad decision they made, think of a symbolic way to help your child deal with it, such as crumbling up a piece of paper with the decision written on it and throwing it away. This can be very therapeutic for children (and adults for that matter!).

While this list provides a variety of ways for your child to become an independent decision maker, try to focus on the one(s) that you think will help your child the most, as you truly know your child more than anyone else. Once you identify what works best, try to be consistent with it.

If you or your child are currently struggling with making tough decisions, it may be a good idea to connect with one of our skilled counselors at Symmetry Counseling today. You can contact them at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment.