Want to help your first-grader with their responsible decision-making skills? Here are some tips that experts suggest.
Show your child that you'll always love and support her
Adults and children make bad choices at times, and supporting your child through hard decisions and poor choices shows you love them unconditionally. Of course, you want to point out that some choices are not acceptable, but if your child makes the same mistake again, make sure to reinforce you still love her. You can also help them make up for those mistakes. Did your child hurt a friend? Have their write an apology note and ask for forgiveness.
Give your child room to make decisions on her own
Some decisions like which book to read at bedtime or whether your child wants carrots or sweet potatoes with dinner are not big choices for you, but allowing them the choice will make them feel more involved and give their more autonomy. Also give their room to make decisions even if your child doesn’t make a choice you agree with, as long as the consequences don’t affect their health or safety. For example, if your child wants to take their allowance to school, let them make that choice. If your child ends up losing a few dollars or coins at recess, your child will likely feel bad about it and learn that it wasn’t a good idea. Letting children learn from their own mistakes is a great teaching opportunity that they will likely remember longer than if you had simply said “no” from the beginning.
Talk to your child about consequences
This can help give their tools your child can use to make their own decisions in the future. Ask them questions like, “What do you think will happen if we don’t wear our coats outside today?” or, “If you don’t go to sleep on time, what do you think you’ll be like at school tomorrow?” or, “How do you think your sister will feel if you play with their favorite toy without asking?” Taking another person’s perspective enhances the quality of your child’s decision-making because in order for your child to make the best decision your child must be able to understand how it will affect others. Learning that there are consequences for actions that affect your child and others is a good way to promote empathy and responsible decision-making.
Use bedtime stories to talk about responsible decisions
Books that center on characters that have to make decisions, like the "Berenstain Bears" series, are a great option. Pause when the characters get to the problem. Ask your child what your child thinks the bears should do, and what your child thinks will happen. Talk about the problem as you’re reading, using terms like, “How would you solve this problem?” or, “What is the problem again?” and “What should Sister Bear do now?” This is a great opportunity to ask your child about the problems they have faced recently and how they were able to solve them.
Explain to your child that different rules apply in different settings
For example, inside or quiet voices need to be used in places like libraries and movie theaters, but cheering or loud yelling can be appropriate when watching sports or playing them. This allows your child to understand the differences in situations that can impact their decision-making.
Talk about a decision you are currently making
For example, you could focus on things like what you’re planning to buy at the grocery store. Talk through your plans for making dinners, what ingredients you think you’ll need, and why you’ll choose what you will. Why are you going to make tacos instead of pasta? What are the health implications of the items you’re buying and why do you choose them? Are you trying to make sure everyone in the family has something they like to eat this week? Maybe you’ve decided to make pancakes for dinner one night for a change of pace, or you’re planning to put broccoli in the mac and cheese to get a vegetable into the mix. This gives an opportunity for your child to see the decision-making process in action and understand that even simple decisions like what brand of tomato sauce to buy have reasoning behind them. Alternatively, you may make a choice that doesn’t have reasoning behind it, like choosing a sweet potato over a plain potato. Letting your child see that some decisions can’t be explained will be a comfort at this young age when your child is likely unable to give a reason behind most of their decisions.
To learn more about decision-making for your child, check out our first-grade decision-making 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, and Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids.