Everyone, no matter what age, has to make decisions. For first-graders, making the transition from having a parent make all decisions to being in school and making decisions on her own can be challenging. Older children may be used to making some decisions without your input. Decisions can be small, like what to wear in the morning, or big, like whether or not to cheat on a test. Working with your young child now to develop these skills can help her better face challenges in the future when you won’t be there in the moment when she needs to make hard decisions.
During these early elementary years, when children are in a formal school setting, they’re interacting with more peers and adults. This increased exposure to others begins to broaden their understanding of the world. Children at this age are developing the ability to identify their feelings and what causes them. They are also learning how to manage their emotions and behave appropriately. You can help your child develop her social and emotional skills. The concepts highlighted in this section are based on the five sets of competencies developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).
Your child likely doesn’t have their own decision-making skills down solid at this point, but they should be able to identify simple rules of behavior like needing to buckle their seatbelt in the car, or how to sit with the family at dinner time without too much fuss.
Your first-grader should also be able to recognize when poor decisions, like saying hurtful comments to someone or telling a lie, can hurt other people.
One of the most basic rules parents often teach children at this young age is to not get in a car or go anywhere with strangers. Your first-grader should know that rule and make good decisions based on it. Your child should also be able to share and take turns, regardless of whether your child wants to.
Responsible decision-making includes choices about personal behavior, but also about what society finds acceptable. In short, learning to make choices that are both good for yourself and others. That can be a tall task for an elementary school child. Fortunately, many choices at this age are smaller choices and helping your child develop a sense of how to make good decisions can prepare her for more difficult decisions later on. Making decisions can help young children develop a sense of responsibility.
Keep in mind every child develops at his or her own pace. If you have concerns about your child’s development, please contact your healthcare provider or your child’s teacher or school counselor.
Learn more about how to support your child with our first-grade decision-making tips page.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Anne Morrison, Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, Lycée Français de New York.