How many of you have had a conversation similar to this one?
You: Okay, child of mine, here is the shirt you are wearing today.
Preschooler: No! I want another shirt!
You: Okay, what about this one?
Preschooler: No, I want that one!
You: Sure, here you go.
<Puts shirt on child.>
Preschooler: I don’t want this shirt. I want that one.
The amount of decisions a preschooler demands to make can be trying for even the most patient parent. But when that same toddler can’t seem to actually make a decision, it can be infuriating.
Lots of parents may wonder if their child’s indecisiveness is chronic — will they EVER pick something and/or stick with it?
First, let’s all acknowledge that making decisions is hard. Even as adults, things as simple as picking out clothes can take ages and have us second guessing ourselves all day. Offer some grace to your child and remember they are dealing with the same kind of anxiety with their daily choices.
Second, remember that a child’s brain is still developing. It runs several gears slower than an adult’s. They will never operate at the same speed as it relates to processing information unless the question is, “Do you want ice cream?” Again, extend grace to them and remember not to rush them too much through making decisions. They really do need the extra time.
Here are five things you and your child can do to help the decision-making process along.
(Note: All of the advice offered in this post is for neurotypical children. If you’re the parent of a neurodiverse child — one who has autism, is on the spectrum, has ADHD, or has other developmental differences — these tips may not be effective or work at all. Check out the resources at Autism Speaks or the CDC for advice that may help you more.)
Five Decision-Making Strategies
Narrow their options
Give your child a choice between two shirts instead of letting them pick from anything in the closet.
Sometimes, they may pick something you didn’t mention. (The blue shirt instead of the green or red one.) If it’s not a big deal, let them make the choice and applaud them for telling you what they wanted. If they really do need to pick between the two options you presented, calmly redirect and restate the choices.
Try not to make decisions for them because you’re in a hurry
Easier said than done, but it really is important for kids not to feel steamrolled by their parents. If they feel like you’re always asking for their opinion but never really considering it because you’re in a rush, it can lead to long-term distrust between the two of you. And no one wants that.
When they seem truly overwhelmed, ask them who needs to decide.
If they really do need your help deciding, refusing to help will only add to their decision-making anxiety.
Let them fail
It may not be fun, but learning from their mistakes is an important skill for kids to learn. Jim Taylor, author and psychologist, says, “… children must also be required to explore their decisions, understand why they made a poor decision, and ensure that they ‘get it’ so that they don’t make the same bad decision again.”
Be compassionate in their failure, though. Tell them about a time you didn’t pick food at a restaurant you liked or bought something that ended up not being what you really wanted. That way, they won’t feel so embarrassed and it gives you a chance to show them how to make better decisions in the future.
Despite how painful it may feel, keep letting your child make decisions
Jennifer Miller, author of “Confident Parents, Confident Kids,” says, “In order to become a responsible decision maker, you need a whole lot of rehearsal with smaller choices. And those smaller choices need to be authentic. If mom gives you two choices, but she’s really wanting you to pick one, that’s not an authentic choice.”
So when your child hasn’t made a decision all week or flip-flops on their choices constantly, remember how difficult it is for anyone to make a decision. And that they are kids. And that their brains are still trying to keep up with the world around them. It won’t make dressing them go any faster, but it will definitely help the relationship you’re building and edifying each day with them.