In a recent edition of “Joint Forces Quarterly,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joe Dunford, wrote, “Military decision-making needs to exceed the speed of events.” While it may not be immediately evident, the chairman’s words are applicable to daily life.
Kids face the most basic decisions early on in their lives — and these only get more complicated, and the stakes higher, the older they grow. In a military setting, decision-making can mean the difference between life and death. In civilian life, long-term decisions frequently are attached to a longer period in which to make them. Short-term decisions, by contrast, may sometimes require an instantaneous commitment.
A thoughtful decision may still result in an undesired outcome — for reasons beyond one’s control — and accepting that fact shouldn’t alter the decision process.
Grounding kids with firm decision-making skills early in life will set them up for success later, and help them navigate childhood and adolescence much more easily. There are so many split-second decisions in pre-adult life: Will your daughter take a puff of that joint? Will your son go with the kids throwing beer bottles in the woods?
There are many resources for parents when it comes to helping guide their kids with decisions. One organization that assists is the Decision Education Foundation (DEF) in San Mateo, California. The group breaks down decision science into easily understood pieces. Parents will find it rewarding themselves, while using some of the skills to help their kids.
Right up front, DEF offers a great tool with the following mantra, applicable to many situations: “Whether my decision is good or bad depends on how I make it, not on the outcome.” The emphasis here is not on how things turned out — but in understanding the process of how the decision was made.
An outcome may be terrific, but if the decision process wasn’t formalized in some way, repeating it may be difficult. Alternatively, a thoughtful decision may still result in an undesired outcome — for reasons beyond one’s control — and accepting that fact shouldn’t alter the decision process.
DEF says, “Good decisions do not guarantee good outcomes, but — on average — consistently better decisions lead to consistently better outcomes.”
These are critical tools to give kids, especially as they get older and can understand the mechanisms they use to make decisions. A good decision requires “both head and heart,” says DEF. “Decision makers need to ask themselves: Does my decision make sense? Does my decision feel right?” This is useful advice because everyone is different.
Psychologists Carl Jung and Isabel Briggs Myers have shown that there are numerous personality types that determine how we approach and interact with the world. An intuitive child will approach a decision differently than a thinking child, for example.
DEF breaks decision quality into six pieces, and offers tools and practice that engage the heart and the mind. It begins with establishing a helpful frame for the decision: What is the purpose for this decision? What should be included in its scope? And what is our perspective on it?
It is easy for younger kids, and kids of differing personality types, to feel overwhelmed by making a decision. It may seem to encompass so much, especially if one decision is part of a larger issue. Developing this one part in the process clearly is probably the most essential key to decision-making. What needs to be decided, what is involved, and what are my feelings about it?
Then comes the part that conservative families may see as the most relevant: clarifying values. This means listing the things we care about; what we want, need, like, and dislike — and how decisions reflect our conscience.
Assessing creative alternatives is another phase. Sometimes a tough decision isn’t the endgame. Sometimes there are alternate routes that are more under our control and hence more achievable.
The last thing we want to instill in our kids is what too many spout today: “It isn’t my fault.”
There are often many alternatives to a situation that can’t be considered, due to factors like time pressure. In the above example, a child has a split second to say “no” to smoking pot. She may get out of this creatively, by saying, “My mom just texted me — gotta run.” Sitting down with your children and brainstorming different ways to approach a problem is something that will trigger them to get creative themselves, and perhaps find solutions they never expected to find.
It’s tricky to make a good decision without useful information, so the foundation encourages people to gather as much of it as possible, so that decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. Be sure not to skip over sound reasoning in this process, too.
This doesn’t only mean using one’s intellect to solve the problem. There is an element of whether a reasoned analysis feels right. If it doesn’t, perhaps more exploration is needed. College kids will understand this — many say, “When I walked on the campus, I knew it was for me.” This decision was based on a feeling, not just statistics and common sense.
Finally, once a decision is reached, the child must commit to following through. “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” as the football saying goes. Don’t doubt the decision — go for it. Make it real. If the outcome isn’t as desired, then your child has learned something and that’s a good thing.
There is one other critical element regarding decision-making. It’s about having power over one’s own life. The last thing we want to instill in our kids is what too many spout today: “It isn’t my fault.” This promotes victimhood and denies personal responsibility. Although there are many social and economic exceptions, people often end up as victims because they engaged in poor decision-making.
Teaching good decision-making skills means offering your kids a firm set of values upon which to make those decisions — values that honor everything that individual sovereignty, and our nation, were built upon.