Decisions. Our kids make them every day. And from the time they can walk and talk, we parents spend a lot of time teaching our kids to make good ones.
It seems that the older our kids get, the more important their decisions become. With two teenagers in our house, the mantra in our house is "Don't make a decision so stupid, you can't fix it." I tell my girls all the time that they're going to make a wrong choice every now and then. We all do, and teenagers are definitely entitled to a stupid decision or two. But, I tell them, don't compound a stupid decision by making a life-changing one trying to keep us from finding out about the stupid one.
Here's the thing, though, my girls didn't start learning about good decisions when they became teenagers. They started learning about good decisions almost from birth.
When they were toddlers, we taught them to choose not to put their finger in a light socket or touch a hot stove. When they headed off to school, we taught them to make good decisions about how they behave in the classroom and in the friends they choose. Now that they're teenagers, we're teaching them to make good decisions about how they spend their time, what they do in a car and whom they choose to hang out with.
By the time our kids are teenagers, most of the decisions they make are going to be made outside of our direct line of sight. We may get the opportunity to advise them beforehand or to dissect the decision afterward, but a lot of the time, we have to trust that they will use what they have learned about making good decisions up until that point to make a good one now.
So, how do we teach our kids to make good decisions, no matter their age?
1. Cover them in prayer. All of our parenting begins with prayer. To be effective parents, we have to cover our children and our parenting in prayer. My most common prayer for my kids is "Lord, let them be wise, and if they don't have wisdom themselves, let them ask you for it."
2. Teach them to seek God first. When our kids are faced with decisions, whether they are 4 or 18, we want to teach them to look to God for the answers. When they are little, this can simply be talking to them about what the Bible has to say about the situation in simple terms. As they get older, we can teach them to look up what the Bible has to say and read it for themselves.
3. Help them see the consequences of each decision. For younger kids, this often means letting them experience the consequences firsthand. However, for older kids, we can help them walk through the logical conclusion of each decision. Tweens and teens don't often have the ability to look at the long-term consequences of their actions. They need us to help them walk through decisions and find consequences (good and bad) they may not be able to see.
4. Let them make the wrong decision. Our tendency is to protect our kids, but if we save them from the consequences of poor decisions, then we deprive them of the opportunity to learn how to make good ones. I'm not suggesting you let your toddler electrocute himself or you let your teen wreck the car. I am suggesting that the toddler reap appropriate consequences for ignoring the rules and that your teen be allowed to suffer the consequences of not turning in their homework. Experience is a great teacher, and some kids simply have to learn things by doing it themselves. When we let them experience the natural consequences of their actions, we are hopefully letting them learn how to make a better decision next time.
5. When they make a poor decision, stay calm. Offer consequences and discipline if necessary, but don't do it out of anger or frustration. Do it because your child needs to learn to make better decisions. Walk your child through the consequences of their decision and point out the different decisions they could have made that would have created a different result.
6. Love them no matter what decision they make. Our kids need to know they are loved unconditionally, even when they make poor decisions. Even if their poor decision-making results in consequences, make sure your kids know they are loved despite their actions.
Parenting our kids well means we have to focus on teaching them to make good decisions. It's a learned skill, one that even as an adult, I am still learning. Be consistent, offer grace and pray. As a parent, that's the best decision you can make.