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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Helping Children Make Wise Decisions (Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     Decisions, decisions, decisions…so many to make!  I recently taught a class on this topic to a group of parents and one of the parents commented that it helped her with her own decision-making process! This parent hit it right on the nail because how we, as parents, make decisions impact how our children make decisions in life. If you have been following my blog, you will know that I am a huge believer in learning through social modeling. I hope this article will serve you and your child well!

     From the moment they are able to think for themselves, children are making decisions all the time!  Sometimes they do it very consciously and other times, not so consciously.  Sometimes they take action in their decisions and other times they may not take any action at all.  For example, a 4 year old is playing ball outside and the ball rolls into the street. Without thinking, he goes after the ball.  Here, the child has taken an action and this can have a dangerous consequence.  Whereas, a 3rd grader watches his friend get bullied everyday but does nothing. Here, the decision does not involve taking actions but consequences still exist. Decisions lead to positive or negative consequences.

     As parents, it becomes our responsibility to teach our kids how to make wise decisions. We cannot  predict if our decisions are right or wrong at the time, but if we give our best efforts then it will probably serve us well one way or another.  Before we get into the actual decision-making process, it is important for us to understand the power of choice.

     As a therapist, one of my clinical mantras I share with my clients is that: “Every morning we wake up, we always have a choice in how we want to lead our lives. They may not always be the choices we want, but we do have the choice.” This speaks to empowerment.  Once we adopt this perspective, our attitude towards decision-making changes. For some, we may become more serious about our decisions and for others, we may relax a bit.  Only that individual can decide what will be their path.

     Now that we understand the power of choice, let us talk about the SODAS method. This framework was developed by Jan Rosa in 1973 to help teenagers make wise decisions by rationally thinking through problems and come up with solutions.  However, it can be adapted for younger kids too.  This method provides a process for parents and children to problem solve and make decisions together. It also helps parents teach children how to problem solve on their own.  The method is a simple, five-step decision making model that can be modified for many situations:

The Steps in SODAS (Burke & Herron, 1996):

1.    Situation- Define the situation. Before you can solve a problem, you need to know what the problem is. This is not always easy to do because children often use vague or emotional descriptions.

•    Ask specific questions such as “What did you do then?” or “What after you did that?” 
•    Teach children to focus on the entire situation, not just part of it.
•    Summarize the information using simplest language and clarify if necessary.

2.    Options- Brainstorm options. Kids tend to think in “all or none” fashion. For example, if they fail a Math test they may want to immediately transfer to another class or to another school altogether. Other times, they may see no options at all. A parent’s role is to get their child to think of options.

•    Have your child list both good and bad options. Foster independent thinking rather than telling them what they ought to do. However, if your child has difficulty coming up with options, do give suggestions.
•    Limit options to three. More will get confusing and frustrating.
•    Make sure atleast one option has a chance for success.

3.    Disadvantages- Discuss for each option. These are the potential negative outcomes if that option was chosen.
4.    Advantages- Discuss for each option.  These are the potential positive outcomes if that option was chosen.

•    Write them down!
•    Ask questions like: “What are the possible benefits?” “What are the drawbacks?” “Why are those things important to you?” “How does that affect you/ family/friends?” “How would that make you/family/friends feel?”

5.    Solution- Choose the best option! Briefly, summarize the disadvantages and advantages for each option, and ask your child to choose the best one.

•    To help your child make an informed decision, make sure they know the options and possible outcomes for each. 
•    Some decisions are harder to make than others. It is okay if your child needs some time to consider the options before making a decision.
•    Practice or role play the situation or solution. A mock interview for a job or college admission would be a great example.  With younger children, role playing how a friend would feel if they were being bullied and nobody helped them would be an effective teaching strategy.
•    Remember: The choice made must be owned by the decision maker! This is key in teaching our kids about taking responsibility for our decisions and accepting consequences for them.

Merry decision-making!

Burke, R. & Herron, R. (1996).  Common Sense Parenting.  Boys Town, Nebraska: Boys Town Press.

Blase, K., Wagner, R. & Clark, H.B. (2007). The SODAS Framework: Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Processes for Working with Transition-Aged Youth and Young Adults.
 Personnel Training Series. Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services Florida Department of Education. 
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