It is usually tempting to step in and save your child from making a mistake, but sometimes children need to learn on their own why taking a particular decision isn’t the best option. Allowing a child to take a bad decision and experience the negative consequences which result can be a powerful teaching tool. When you decide to let your child learn from experience be sure to pick an appropriate situation for the lesson, let your child experience all of the consequences, speak with him or her about what happened and support your child as (s)he works through the effects of the decision.
Picking An Appropriate Situation
Children tend to make decisions quickly, emotionally and without necessarily a great deal of research or forethought. This means that everyday there could be myriad situations in which you might deliberately allow your child to make a mistake. Only allow this in appropriate situations, such that:
- No one will be physically or emotional hurt by the decision or consequences.
- The incident will be quick and contained.
- Your child will experience the consequences shortly after making the decision.
- It will be clear that the consequences resulted from the decision.
- The consequences will not add a great deal of stress to your life.
- The decision will not effect anyone else’s property or personal items.
- The consequences will not have much effect on anyone besides your child.
Experiencing All of the Consequences
Once a child begins to realise the negative consequences of a decision (s)he may become emotional. This could easily translate into physical effects such as tears, headaches or tummy aches. It can be tempting to let your child off the hook and try to fix the situation on your own. Don’t allow this. All you will be teaching your child is that you will be available to fix things so they can make any decision they like. Instead, help your child remain calm and remind him or her that you will be there to help them through the consequences.
Discussing the Decision
Discuss the decision your child made once the negative consequences become clear. Ask him or her:
- Why did (s)he make the decision?
- What did (s)he think the other options were?
- What did (s)he think would happen?
- What does (s)he see as the consequences now looming?
- Does (s)he think these consequences are fair?
- How can (s)he now best get through the consequences?
- How can you help him or her through the consequences?
- What could (s)he do differently next time?
Supporting Your Child Through the Effects
Reassure your child that you will be there to help him or her through the consequences (s)he now faces as a result of the bad decision. For example, if she decided not to do a school assignment and received a poor mark, offer to help her set up a study schedule and better prepare for future assessments. Or if he decided to stay up late reading after you told him to go to sleep, wake him up on time and require that he go through his normal schedule but offer to help him focus on homework early so that he can get to bed at a better time. Don’t allow your child to wriggle out of the consequences of a decision, but help him or her deal with them in the most positive way possible.
Experiencing a negative consequence of a decision is a powerful learning tool for a child. If possible pick an appropriate situation, allow your child to experience all of the consequences, discuss the decision and support your child through the effects so that (s)he will learn something from the experience.