Knowing how to make wise decisions is the key to having a successful and happy life. Helping our children learn how to do this is a major responsibility of parents. And it isn’t easy, but then not too many things about parenting are. The sooner we start helping them learn this principle the better off they will be.
When kids are young our life seems easier if we just tell them what to do, so we can get on with other duties. We need to keep reminding ourselves, “This is my most important duty. Give it priority while they are still home.” Other duties can wait.
What to Wear
For starters, think about giving your small children the opportunity to choose what they want to wear. If you’re going somewhere that matters, you may want to narrow the choice by saying, “Would you like to wear the green sweater or the blue shirt?” If you know their favorites, include that in the choice. They will love being able to choose. They’ll even be more likely to get dressed faster without so much parental prodding.
What to Eat
Everyone has his or her favorite foods. A wise parent will include their children in making some of their food selections. Once again, you may need to narrow the field by saying, “Would you like an apple and a cookie for a snack or would you prefer an orange with a graham cracker?” Or as you plan the menu for dinner you could ask, “For dinner tonight shall we fix pizza or hamburgers?” Or if you’re introducing healthier foods you might say, “Would you like salmon or chicken for dinner?” And, “Would you like green beans or carrots for the vegetable tonight?” They certainly don’t always need to be choosing what’s for dinner but allowing them to choose some of the time will help.
Other simple choices can be made at the table like “Would you like one spoonful of peas or two?” Or “Would you like me to help you cut your meat or would you like to cut it yourself?” All of these minor choices prepare their minds to make bigger decisions later.
A mother reported that as part of their family home evening council time she would ask the family what main dishes they would like for dinner that week. She did her best to fix the kids and Dad’s favorites as often as she could. Part of the deal was that the kids would also eat what else was for dinner throughout the week, without complaining. Kids are more willing to eat what’s not their favorite if they know they’re going to be getting what they really like at some point.
One father reported that they allowed their children to choose one food they hated and were promised that they would never have to eat that one if it were served. One child said he hated mushrooms, another that he hated cottage cheese. Each had one thing they hated and were promised they would never have to eat it when served at home. Again, part of the deal was, they had to eat at least some of everything else that was served. The parents made sure to occasionally serve the “hated” food item so that child could have the chance to refuse it. The kids responded well to this and most complaining about food stopped.
When you let a child make one of these minor choices be sure you let it stick. If you try to change their minds into what you want they will be less inclined to make future choices. We need to respect their choices at these early ages to give them the experience they need to make more important choices later on.
Making Moral Choices
Children need to learn that some choices are far more important than others. They need to know there are consequences, sometimes eternal consequences, for decisions they make. To help them understand how to discern between good and evil, which is crucial in making a right choice, read with them Moroni 7:15-19:
15. For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
16. For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
18. And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
19. Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
Once they understand this doctrine they can measure their choices by asking the question, “Will this lead me to Christ or away from Him?” It’s quite simple. The good thing about this is that we have the Holy Ghost to help us more clearly see the answer to this question.
Recognize the Whisperings of the Holy Ghost
Which brings up the next point. Do they understand how the Holy Ghost works, how he communicates with them? Elder Craig C. Christensen gave an excellent example of how he helped his young son come to know what communication from the Holy Ghost feels like. He tells about taking his family to a temple open house. Here’s his account with his young son.
Stepping into the celestial room, I suddenly realized that our youngest son, six-year-old Ben, was clinging to my leg. He appeared anxious-perhaps even a little troubled.
“What’s wrong, Son?” I whispered.
“Daddy,” he replied, “what’s happening here? I’ve never felt this way before.”
Recognizing that this was likely the first time our young son had felt the influence of the Holy Ghost in such a powerful way, I knelt down on the floor next to him.
While other visitors stepped around us, Ben and I spent several minutes, side by side, learning about the Holy Ghost together. I was amazed at the ease with which we were able to discuss his sacred feelings. As we talked, it became clear that what was most inspiring to Ben was not what he saw but what he felt-not the physical beauty around us but the still, small voice of the Spirit of God within his heart. I shared with him what I had learned from my own experiences, even as his childlike wonder reawakened in me a deep sense of gratitude for this unspeakable gift from God-the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Ensign Nov. 2012, p. 12)
We will not always be with our children, so preparing them to recognize these whisperings of the Spirit wherever they may be will be a great gift to them.
Children Will Make Some Wrong Choices
Parents who try to solve every problem and make every decision for their children, take away the need for them to hear the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. Our children will make mistakes. It may well be through these mistakes that they learn the value of making right choices. We always hope and pray that their mistakes will not be life threatening. Still, we can’t be there for everything so the sooner they learn to make wise choices the better.
Making wrong choices can sometimes help children see the importance of making right ones. When I was a teenager I found that out the hard way. Here’s what happened:
I borrowed my dad’s new Jeep pickup to drive to the church for a singing practice. It was during the era when sacrament meetings were held Sunday evenings. The youth were to practice for the Easter program that would be performed that evening. I picked up two friends along the way, which had been okayed by my dad.
On the way to the church we talked about how some of the non-LDS kids at school were having an Easter party at a reservoir in the mountains about ten miles away. As we talked we decided we would go up to see what was happening at the party and then drive back by the ending of the rehearsal. It sounded like a lot more fun than a singing practice. I knew it was not a good decision but put aside those feelings and went anyway.
On the way I was distracted by something at the side of the road, over-corrected, and the Jeep flipped over into a barrow pit on the other side of the road. It was before seat belts, so we crashed into the windshield, ending up with numerous cuts and bruises. We could not open the doors to get out. It was a desolate road because we had taken the short cut to speed things along. Thankfully, a car came along and saw our predicament. The driver was a policeman out for a drive with his family.
The officer helped us out and asked who we were. When I told him who my father was he said he would take us to my home, since the hospital was much further away.
I walked into my parents’ room where they were resting, and said, “I had an accident.” I was covered with blood. My father jumped up from the bed, rushed the three of us to the hospital where we were stitched up and sent home.
All this time my father did not reprimand me for doing what I did. After making sure we were okay, he calmly said was, “I hope you’ve learned to keep the Sabbath day holy.” That was all he said. No big speech about his new Jeep being wrecked. Only his quiet statement about keeping the Sabbath holy. It was a lesson I never forgot.
This example shows how important it is to minimize words of reprimand when our children make wrong choices. The fewer and kinder the words the more meaningful and memorable they will be.
The “What if” Game
When our children were still at home we sometimes played the “what if” game during family home evening. It seemed to capture their interest, including the teenagers. To prepare, we would discuss situations we thought our kids might be faced with, sometimes inviting older ones to help give ideas. Then we would write these situations on pieces of paper and put them in a bowl. Each child would have a turn to choose a paper and read it. They were to answer it with their own solutions, then others could also discuss options they thought might work.
For example, one situation was, “What if you are at a party and someone offers you a beer. What would you do?” It was interesting to hear them consider things they might say to refuse the drink without being rude, and to decide what parties aren’t good to attend. Another situation was, “What if a difficult test is coming up and you’re worried you might not pass it. One of your classmates says he has the answers to the test and will share them with you. What would you do?” Another question was, “What if you see a cute dress, try it on and it just fits, but it’s not quite modest. What do you do?” This one can lead to a helpful discussion about what is modest and what is not.
The more the children are involved in thinking of what they would do in difficult situations the better prepared they are to make wise decision when or if that should actually happen to them. A good reminder here is, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” (D&C 38:30)
Tell Them Your Own Stories
Kids love stories. Share with them your own experiences of making hard decisions, even some times when you made a wrong choice that led to an unwelcome consequence. Don’t share things from your past they shouldn’t know, just things that can be helpful to them. Sometimes when they know you made some mistakes they can learn from yours. Be sure to include times when you made good choices that resulted in being a blessing for you.
Pray for help
We as parents know we can’t do this alone. We need the Lord’s guiding care to help our children learn to make good decisions. If we ask Him every day He will help us in this most important responsibility. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect in this duty, just diligent. If we do our part He will do the rest.
[For information on books and other articles by Gary and Joy Lundberg visit their website ]