(This is the 5th and last part of the Raising a Brave Girl? Blog series. Check out the Intro: Are You Brave Enough To Raise a Brave Girl?, Part 1: Let her Fear, Part 2: Let her Feel, Part 3: Let her save herself, and Part 4: Let her Fail)
Brave Girls make their own choices
Tomorrow is made out of today’s choices – or something like that, right? When it comes to your daughter, you want her to make good choices. Safe choices. Smart choices. Responsible choices.
Choice-giving is a skill I teach as a parent coach. But right now I am not talking about the same parenting strategy, where parents give choices to avoid getting yes-or-no answers (most likely No). Instead of “can you do x? Parents ask, “would you rather x or y?” Choices make it more likely for the child to comply.
But this time, you will let your daughter make her own choices for a different reason. Not to guide her responses, but to teach the process of making her own decisions.
As your daughter gets older, her decisions become more and more important. And, as you lose control over her choices, it’s critical that she makes good ones.
You see, the captive princess waiting for her knight in shining armor (ugh) does not make any choices. Snow White makes all the wrong choices. Elsa’s parents taught her to hide her powers. When she couldn’t hide them anymore, she decided to run away. But Disney heroine Moana saved her island by choosing to go against her father’s advice.
So how will your daughter learn to make good decisions? The same way as she learns everything else. By practicing. (Spoiler alert: practicing always involves making mistakes)
You can teach her by focusing on the PROCESS of making choices. When you focus on the process, a negative outcome is not a failure. With your support, your daughter’s wrong choices can be a lesson.
3 Steps to help your daughter make good decisions
Imagine taking your daughter to the arcade games. The overstimulation in those places is like crack to a kid’s mind. If she makes good decisions on that kind of battleground, she will be successful in life (ok, that’s a stretch but you get the point).
You daughter really wants a stuffed animal out of those glass boxes with the claw. You know which one, right? The one that promises a toy, but even if you got the claw exactly in place, the toy either falls out or worse, doesn’t even move. Nobody ever wins!
So here’s what you do:
Step 1: Allow informed choices
You set a budget. She gets a certain amount of tokens. Let her hold them. She can use them as she wishes.
She tells you she wants to fish out a stuffed animal out of that token-eating machine.
This is where you resist steering her decision. You don’t need to protect her from disappointment. Instead, give her information. Something like “OK, I want to tell you that this is a game that almost never works. It makes kids feel like they wasted their tokens. But it’s your choice.“
Most likely, your words won’t sway her. And that’s fine. The goal was not to convince her. It was to practice the process of decision-making. Go ahead and let her play. While she’s at it, join her in the excitement. Who knows, maybe she’s lucky!
Step 2: Let her feel the consequences
If she wins, cheer! She made her own decision, and it worked! Most likely though, she won’t win. If so, you can restate what you said before, with a different tone. Avoid the I told you so, it distracts her from the real lesson. This is not the time for a lecture. Instead, it’s an opportunity. “I know this sucks. It feels like a waste of tokens!” is a way to join her emotionally, and also highlight what happened.
Maybe she will want to try again. You can speak her decision back to her, to solidify her decision, like “You want to try again? OK. You’re choosing this game OVER ANY OTHER.” You are saying this because upon a negative outcome, she can feel like the victim of bad luck. But you are teaching her that this is not about luck. It’s about decision making.
She’ll probably follow with, “I know, it’s fine.” Let her go ahead. It’s another chance to practice.
Then, when the disappointment hits, empathize. Your work is done. No need to solve this one! Her best teacher is her experience.
Step 3: Believe in the process – Believe in her
At step 1 and 2, you might worry what happens if things go south. If she is younger, disappointment may lead to a tantrum. If she is older, you’ll deal with a grumpy kid.
When you know that she is learning from this experience and that the result will help her make better decisions, it’s easier to tolerate her feelings. Of course, not all behaviors are acceptable. But all feelings are.
You don’t need to solve her negative feelings. They are hers! She risked feeling them when she decided to play the game. Allow her to listen to her feelings for what they can teach her.
Many parents miss the opportunity of letting her feelings be her teacher. When disappointment hits, you might want to make her feelings go away, so that you can continue having a good day together. But she needs to really feel these feelings so that she will think twice next time. This is the natural process of learning. It’s not revenge on your end. You are not being a cruel parent. And you are not doing anything to make her feel worse. All you need to do is not rescue her.
Teach your child to make good decisions
Be intentional. Let her practice with small, age appropriate choices. Does she want to buy the pretty, but low-quality shoes? Make your suggestions. Discuss possible outcomes. What will she do if the shoes don’t last? When this happens, she might feel upset. She might worry that other kids will laugh at her. You’ll want to protect her. But this was her choice; an important life lesson.
Brave Girls make tough decisions. Before making a choice, allow your daughter to consider possible outcomes and decide if she will be OK with them. As most kids, she will likely minimize the risks. This hopeful, idealistic outlook is what pushes her to try new things; things that no one else tried.
Some of her decisions will work out fine, even when you disagreed at first. Other times, her choices may not end as she hoped. She will be frustrated and disappointed. But she will be OK! She’ll learn to make better choices and grow from the experience.
Let her mess up with smaller choices. Give her room to make plenty of mistakes early on. Process them with her, and empower her to make better choices next time. This way, when it comes to the bigger decisions, she will be a pro!
This was the last part of the Raising a Brave Girl? Blog series! Don’t miss the conclusion that brings all 5 parts together: She is Brave Enough to Face Herself.
Are you enjoying the Raising A Brave Girl series? I’d love to hear from you. Comment below!