Children are not born with the ability to make responsible decisions. It is a skill that is learned over time and involves making mistakes and learning from them. As your child becomes more independent, he’ll be faced with making more decisions on his own. Director of the Rutgers Social and Emotional Laboratory Maurice Elias says that it is important to build this skill before the teenage years when problems and decisions can have more serious consequences.
The late elementary years are a time of great personal and social growth. As children grow older, they become better at making decisions, solving problems, and working in groups. Early adolescence begins around the age of 11, and this brings along its own challenges. As children’s bodies begin to change their emotions can seem to change at a moment’s notice. Developing your child’s social and emotional skills can help him manage his emotions and behavior and make responsible choices. 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).
The ability to make responsible decisions combines your child’s ability to identify and manage his emotions with his social awareness and relationship skills. You can support your child’s growing ability to make responsible decisions so that he is better equipped to make decisions on his own. Decisions like whom your child sits with at lunch or which shirt he puts on each day may seem small to you, but in the later elementary years, decisions can become more serious. For example, in the late elementary years, some children get their first smartphones or unsupervised internet time. Choices your child makes about how to present himself online can have long-term consequences that he may not understand yet. With your guidance, he can be better prepared for the future.
Your child should be able to understand and explain why it is important to obey rules and laws, whether it’s traffic laws, rules at home, or rules in the classroom.
Your fourth-grader should be able to set some goals and priorities and create a plan related to them. These priorities can be related to schoolwork, like getting a good grade or completing a reading assignment, or relationships, like helping a friend or family member. Your child should also be able to think of different solutions for problems and think of the consequences of their choices.
Keep in mind every child develops at his own pace, both physically and emotionally. If you have concerns about your adolescent’s development, please contact your health care provider or your child’s teacher or school counselor.
Learn more about how to support your child with our fourth-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.