Guiding Good Decisions at Every Stage

Age-by-age guidance on the issue


Published:

Want to avoid power struggles, defuse tantrums and raise kids who become confident, capable adults? Give them choices. Research shows that allowing kids to make their own decisions — beginning much earlier than many parents think — helps build skills that support making better decisions through adulthood. But when and how should parents start letting kids choose for themselves? And is it possible to give too many options? Read on for age-by-age guidance on raising choice champions.

 

EARLY YEARS

Wonder Years

Want to avoid the “terrible 2s”? Try offering your child choices, starting at age 1. According to clinical psychologist Michelle P. Maidenberg, a family therapist in New York City, allowing young toddlers to make some of their own decisions provides a sense of self-efficacy and identity.

“With repeated opportunities to make their own decisions, there’s less of a chance children will experience ‘the terrible 2s’ and try to assert their control aggressively,” Maidenberg says.

Parents can avoid power struggles by offering a couple of options that keep their desired result in mind. If you need your child to leave the park, ask “Do you want to walk, or do you want me to carry you?” instead of “Do you want to leave or stay?” When giving choices is, be sure to follow through, be very specific and give limited choices — and usually two choices is enough.

“For young children, or any child who is easily overwhelmed, becomes anxious or is easily agitated, an either/or choice works best,” Maidenberg says.

 

ELEMENTARY YEARS

Decision Fatigue

Kids can be overloaded with choices. A recent study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that when it comes to choices, more isn’t better. Too many options can result in less engagement with the item or activity they choose. So asking kids to choose a title from a stack of a half-dozen books leaves them with less time and energy to actually read the book, while selecting from just two books results in more time spent reading. Offering kids choices may even help keep less enriching activities in check. Researchers propose that caregivers might be able to use these findings to limit the time kids spend on less desirable activities, like watching TV or playing video games, without nagging or setting timers. Instead, simply allow kids to choose from a large menu of shows or games. Science says they may lose interest more quickly with no parental intervention required.

 

TEEN YEARS

Choices on Call

For parents of teenagers, supporting good choices is a balancing act. You want to help kids successfully navigate bigger decisions — from choosing how much to spend on a pair of sneakers, to deciding which colleges, scholarships or jobs to pursue — without sabotaging their decision-making process. The key to supporting growth in this area is listening to your teen, says therapist Kate Paquin, a family coach based in Raleigh. Consider whether your child has asked for your help and whether he or she wants your help making this decision, she says.

“We all have thoughts on how our children should do things, but during the teen years we move from 100 percent manager to 50 percent manager and 50 percent consultant,” Paquin says. “It can be hard to know when to use which skill set, but ask yourself ‘why does this matter to me, and what is their goal?’”

That might mean smiling and allowing your child to make a lavish purchase he or she has saved for, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Allowing teens to find their own way through bigger decisions helps them discover their own strengths, boundaries and values, as well as when and how to ask for a parent’s help when needed.  

 

Malia Jacobson is a nationally published health journalist and mom. Her latest book is “Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.”

 

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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
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Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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Live online classes for kids - FREE! Kids and families can join our online classes from home while school is out. Our special guests teach kids about art, medicine, music, cooking, science and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online at your Home
265 Cambridge Ave #60923
Palo Alto, NC  94306
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Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
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Want to do more to help out your community park? Do you like history, the environment, agriculture, and/or the arts? Consider volunteering at Yates Mill! Join us anytime during the program time to...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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The 16th Annual (Virtual) Beaver Queen Pageant, Beavers in the Stream! The Beaver Queen Pageant is the Triangle’s own special mix of folly, pageantry, and humor. Contestants take on beaver...

Cost: free

Where:
Online
, NC


Sponsor: Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
Telephone: 919-423-1502
Contact Name: Rachel Cohn
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We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
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The Beaver Queen Pageant is the Triangle’s own special mix of folly, pageantry, and humor. Contestants take on beaver personalities and compete for the title of Beaver Queen with their fashion,...

Cost: free

Where:
Online
, NC


Sponsor: Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
Telephone: 919-698-9729
Contact Name: Rachel Cohn
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River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center brings together live musical performances throughout the year to a one-of-a-kind outdoor venue, right in the middle of the world’s largest...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
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