Making quick decisions is a behavior to master.
But it’s not easy.
When you make a decision, there are so many variables, so many options to consider, and so, so, so many ways that you can go about solving the problem. In fact, there are more than five thousand books available on Barnes and Noble’s website on the art and science of decision making!
Even seemingly easy decisions can lead to complicated consequences, such as when your child asks for a snack. That one simple choice can lead to an evening of tantrums and chaos.
The trick often lies in being concise in your answer. When your answer is fast and clear and direct, I bet your small being accepts the answer and moves onto something else. When you pause and question out loud if you should or not, does your child take that as the sign to start negotiating? He may start with a whine. Then he moves on to complaining, saying you never let him have snacks. He might even pull you to the kitchen and, when you resist, start hitting you.
The hitting, whining, or dragging probably makes the easiest answer clear: “Well, we are already in the kitchen, might as well have a snack.”
I am going to be honest with you: the inappropriate behavior you are seeing here is because of your hesitation. You left the space open for your child to influence your decision. He took advantage of the opening, and it worked! I can promise that you will see the behavior again next time your child wants something.
Now that you see why hesitating to make a decision leads to behavior problems, can you see why making quick decisions helps improve your child’s behavior?
Let’s discuss how to make that happen.
First, remember that there is no perfect answer for every moment. That is a lot of pressure to put on yourself. Take the pressure off, as there is no perfect answer.
Second, remember that it is okay to have a different answer than someone else. If you are at the park and another parent says yes to a snack, it is okay for you to say no. If at home your partner usually says no to snacks and you usually say yes, that’s fine. You don’t even need to give the same answer from one day to the next. Just make sure that when you answer, it is clear and you stick to it.
Third, you do not have to provide your child with a full explanation of your decision. Giving one simple reason might help everyone feel better. However, giving a laundry list of reasons or debating with your child about your answer does not improve behavior. Generally, it leaves everyone feeling exhausted and, to be honest, you’ll never win.
If I can impart one essential behavior truth to you today it is this: You will never, ever win a debate with your child. So, don’t go there. Give your decision and drop the mic.
When you keep these three elements in mind, it becomes much easier to answer questions. Keep it simple. Give one answer that is your best answer in that moment. Know that this is not some test and someone else could do it better. Your answer is the only one that counts when you are the one in charge of your child.
The best way to master making quick decisions is to practice. So practice each day giving your children quick and clear answers to his questions and watch how his inappropriate behavior decreases. Keep practicing, knowing that sometimes you will wish you had given a different answer. This is part of the process. It is not about always getting it right, it’s about getting it clear.
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Dr. Marcie Beigel is a behavioral therapist based in Brooklyn. She has worked with thousands of families for more than 15 years and has condensed her observations into her practice and programs. For more information, visit www.Behav