Eeny, meeny, miny…. Oh no !
Enabling our kids to make wise decisions is one of a parent’s greatest legacies. When the dilemma is between strawberries and banana’s (and the precocious strategist exclaims, “Both!”) parents hardly think about the process...unless it’s, “Decide quickly, please.” All too soon, children are confronted with the selection of friends, ways to use free time, options for college, and trade-offs to finance their choices. By this time, moms and dads change their vocabulary to, “Decide well.”
How do people learn decision-making? Is there a way besides trial and error?! How can parents teach it...without being a bore and a chore
I learned the best lessons about decision-making the hard way: by making un-wise choices. Were they wrong or right? It’s a moot point now since we cannot change the past. But I trust they became smart choices because I learned from these situations, tweaked the way I make decisions, AND am passing the wisdom on to others.
Pass It On
I regularly hear parents lament that their children left the family’s values aside. Kids will make their own choices; it’s what we bring them up to do. I can barely control myself. It should come as no surprise that I cannot outmaneuver the kids...and yet I’m still caught off guard!
The serenity prayer (Yes, it's recited at every AA meeting. Practical stuff.) helps in these circumstances: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
So what can you and I change?
We can walk our talk. “Do as I say but not as I do” means “It’s not worth it.”
We can also talk our walk...and this does not always come naturally. It’s explaining why we do what we do. Ron Clark, impassioned teacher and New York Times Bestseller author of The Excellent 11: Qualities Teachers and Parents Use to Motivate, Inspire, and Educate Children, put this into action in his classroom. When he began his teaching job, his class graded way below average in writing skills while they scored very highly in math. In observing the math teachers, he noticed how the teachers talked through the problem solving process.
“Julie has $2.00. Each candy costs 20 cents. How many candies will she
share with her friends?”
Ron Clark decided to put this talk-through-the-process into practice in his class. “Whatever the student’s assignment, I would take the same task and show them how I would respond in writing. I talked through the process, explaining the importance of the opening sentence, how I was avoiding repetition throughout, trying to keep it entertaining, and all the while maintaining the structure.” By the end of the year, his students scored highest in the county in writing.
We can do this at home with our values too. “The reason why we keep the front hallway clean and don’t drop our heavy schoolbags and dirty shoes in the middle (!!) is so that our home is welcoming. We want your friends to feel like they are special and that we like having them in our home. When they have to make their way through a mountain of stuff, it is less pleasant for them...Oh, and they might prefer not to have to move your dirty underwear and smelly socks to play in your room!!!!” If we don’t explain the principles behind our behaviors, parents sound like recording machine spewing out rules.
What are key values in your home? What does that look like everyday? I described our focus on hospitality. A friend exclaimed, “Hospitality for us is keeping the fridge full.” That’s great. Every family member can practice hospitality by updating the shopping list. The person who finishes the box of cookies adds it to the list “so that your friends will feel welcome to come over for a snack.”
If X, then Y
Choices have consequences. Some are exceptional! Some not. My least wise decisions were those where I did not thoroughly consider the impact of my selected option.
What? A choice?
There are the choices I made without realizing a decision was at stake. I recall my childhood memory of handing in my paper written with a leaking pen. It did not occur to me that I was choosing to get a failing grade because the work was illegible. Of course, the professor would spend the necessary time to grade my oh-so-valuable work despite its horrendous presentation. For the first and only time in my life, I got an "E." There are also the times when I came home to find my sons glued to the screen. Before even saying, “Hello” I ask them (not so gently) to get off the games. Oops. Little did I realize that I was determining the family mood for the evening.
Failure in these choices helps build self-awareness. Ah, the pain and the gain of teaching moments! These decisions might seem insignificant because the stakes are low...in the short term. One of our boys built a reputation on his messy work. In elementary school, he received a reproaching comment on the report card and writing exercises from his parents. By middle school, teachers took points off his tests and he still laughed at Mom and Dad’s reprimands. In high school, where grades reflect the rigor of one’s thinking, he received below average marks in subjects where he had previously excelled. He thought he was showing off with short-cuts; the professors could not follow his reasoning. High school physics put him in line. He chose neat thinking and expression.
I too experience the medium term consequences of my barking moods. It gets lonely. No one wants my company. I don’t even like being around myself then!
There are also the decisions where we keenly recognize that the stakes are high(ish). The smartest choices I made were those for which I had a process to help identify potential consequences. That's not obvious. St Ignatius (1491-1556) has given me the most current advice for thinking through life options in the 21st century. This Spanish-knight-turned-founder-of-the-Jesuit-order wrote of divine assurance in decision-making in his Spiritual Exercises. He presents a twelve day, stress-free prayer process to understand and evaluate the consequences of one’s decisions. Here’s a brief summary and an example of how it could work for deciding which university to attend.
A miniscule extract of St Igantius’ Spiritual Exercises
The goal is to reach clarity on a specific decision. Begin the process with an open mind, ready to either accept or decline the option. Each day concentrate solely on viewing the dilemma from one unique angle. The next day, there will be a different perspective. At the end of six days, you've got a 360° evaluation...and this method was devised in the 16th century!
- Day 1: List the pros and con for accepting the decision
- Day 2: List the pros and con for refusing the decision
- Day 3: Imaging a friend’s advice (pros and cons) regarding accepting the decision
- Day 4: Imagine a friend’s advice regarding saying, “No”
- Day 5: Looking back at the end of your life, what will be the impact of accepting the option?
- Day 6: Looking back at the end of your life, what will be the impact of refusing the decision?
The process limits the daily mind load. For six days, I put worry on a shelf. I handle just one perspective one day at a time. Having less on my mind frees me to get a better grip on the full picture. Still hesitant or want further confirmation. Days 7-12 are a repeat of the first six. By the time Day 12 comes around, the decision will be clear.
Enjoy making wise choices!
Day 1: Going to Univ of A
Pros: Friends will be there. Not too tough academically, so will
have a great time. Weather is great.
Is your child tempted to ponder the advantages of College Z or the approaching deadline? Don’t let her mind rest on these subjects on Day 1. It only adds stress and confusion. There is a moment to think of them in St Ignatius’ process. One step at a time. There is great value in keeping to this timing.
Day 2: Going to College Z
Pros: It’s a harder school so I will learn more. The teacher/student
ration is low so I’ll get more individual attention.
Let the “Going to College Z” decision impregnate her thoughts during the day. She might realize that no one knows anyone at College Z...so everyone will be looking for friends. She might realize and verbalize that she is truly ambitious or that work is not at all up her alley.
Day 3: Imagine a sincere friend talking about going Univ of A
Pros: “Since elementary school you have been talking about Univ
of A. Isn’t this your dream come true?”
Day 4: Imagine a true-friend talking about attending College Z
Pros: “You are a person who works best under pressure. You
can do really well, but you’re lazy. At College Z you’ll have
to work harder. It’ll bring out the best in you. You’ll make new
friends and they will have the same work priorities that you do.”
Day 5: Look back from the end of your life and evaluate the impact of choosing Univ of A
Univ of A was a comfortable choice. It kept me focused on this part of the country: employers from this state came to recruit and I have worked and lived here all my life. I haven’t lived in the fast lane, but I have a loving spouse and a good family. Love is spelled T-I-M-E.
Day 6: Look back from the end of your life and evaluate the impact of choosing College Z
College Z pushed me out of my comfort zone. I learned that it wasn’t as hard to try something new as I had thought. We had an option for study abroad, so I left the country and discovered another culture. I had thought the people of _________ (France) were ______ (elite and argumentative), but I discovered that __________ (they truly love great food and wine and the companionship that comes from sitting around a dinner table for hours—4 at minimum!) College Z put me in debt...and it took me years to pay off my loans. It sure taught me the value of money and how to be creative with little. Did you know that picnics are inexpensive dates, but oh-so-romantic?!