Boundaries Help Teach Decision Making

Key Takeaways

  • Proper negotiation involves some give and take.
  • Start with assuming your Childs wants to do well.

My son, 4-years-old, loves to watch some videos with us before bed. We allow it. We open up the YouTube app and we put in a keyword for him to start his search. He totally judges videos by their cover. He mostly loves videos of tractors and monster trucks; he also likes unboxing videos of toys too.

Negotiating Starts with Respect

When he asks to watch videos I simply tell him that we can definitely watch some after we pick up toys. We normally pick up toys right before bed unless he wants to watch videos. If we do toys first then the chore gets done faster and he actually gets to watch for longer.

Tonight, he told me he didn’t want to pick up toys first.

“Okay,” I said, “then we can just play.”
“I still wanna watch videos.” He replied.
“That’s fine. We can watch videos after we pick up toys.” I kneeled down to start helping and…
“I changed my mind. I don’t want to watch videos.” He said.
“Okay. What would you like to do?” I asked.
“Let’s play at the table!” He exclaimed.

Boundaries Give Us Freedom to Explore

He got out his scissors and said he wanted to do some cutting. It may be tempting in this situation to give your kids ideas about what and how to cut. But many of the best things we learn in life are learned through exploration and discovery. I gave some simple rules. “Only cut the paper and put the scissors down before you go anywhere.”

It really does’t matter if he’s cutting out a shape or just making random cuts. There’s value in both activities, right? But since there’s value in either that means there is little to no value in directing the activity. In fact, since kids are people just like you and me, and people don’t like to be told what to do, it would probably work against our goals of teaching decision making because we would be giving them a reason to choose the opposite of the one we want, even if it’s the same thing they want! That’s a little frustrating isn’t it?

Let Desire Guide Their Exploration

I find it valuable to figure out how much a certain activity is worth. What I’m careful of is not assigning any value of the activity myself. It made no difference to me which activity he did. I love sitting with him and watching videos; I also love sitting with him and coloring. These are the kinds of interactions I want to have with my kids as much as possible. These activities will change as they get older but I hope I will recognize these moments and provide reasonable boundaries for them to operate within.

What are the areas you feel you want better boundaries around with your loved ones?

Philip Mott

I've been working with families for two decades now. I write about topics pertaining to parents of children ages 4-12.

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2 comments

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  • You described this really well. Definitely a key to it is not just how you try and present it, but to truly not care what they choose. Kids can smell an agenda a mile away. If it’s just a factual, honest choice, you can see their wheels turning in judging how much they want to do something. It’s such a great opportunity for kids to start building the habit of honestly assessing how they feel about something and what decision they want to make as a result.