Opening up and letting your children make decisions is healthy

Raising children to make good decisions when mom and dad aren’t around is every parent’s job, but with children spending more time than ever away from home, this has become a difficult task. So what can parents do to ensure their children make good decisions whenever they leave the house?

The answers may be simpler than you think.

The Search Institute, a nonprofit organization that conducts research to advance the well-being of children, has identified four building blocks that all kids need for good emotional health.

These building blocks, or internal assets, are part of a larger framework of 40 developmental assets identified by the Search Institute to help children grow up healthy, caring, and responsible.

Dr. Peter C. Scales, a Senior Fellow at the Search Institute and author of Coming Into Their Own , explains that parents can create experiences that nurture these building blocks in their child, which in turn develop a more healthy and well-adjusted adult.

The four building blocks of good emotional health are:

1. Self-esteem:

Does your child feel good about himself? This asset can be developed through something as routine as family communication. But it takes practice. “Good active listening emerges cumulatively over time,” Dr. Scales says.

“It’s a pattern of firm but loving discipline, having high expectations, and explaining things to children.” Dr. Scales suggests that parents let children have a say in how the family conducts their day-to-day life. This can be as simple as asking your child, “What movie should we see?,” or allowing him to participate in planning the family’s vacation. “Children must be brought into the family’s decision-making process.”

2. Sense of Purpose:

Does your child feels that her life has purpose? “In the elementary and middle school years,” Dr. Scales says, “children are developing a sense of what they can do and what their interests are. Parents can intentionally shape a sense of purpose by influencing the nature of their child’s activities.”

Dr. Scales suggests creating opportunities for children in religious or spiritual pursuits, volunteer work, or introducing the child to people who are passionate about their work. “Parents should expose their children to as much as they can but, ultimately, it is the child’s own mix of talents, interests, and values that will guide him/her in his/her life.”

3. Positive View of Personal Future:

Does your child feel optimistic about his future? To develop this asset, your youngster must feel that the world is responsive to him.

One way to accomplish this is through consistent discipline. “Children need firm but loving discipline that creates boundaries and develops a sense of limits,” Dr. Scales explains. “All children want and need to be told ‘no’ because that is a sign of love from the caregiver.” Other ways to nurture this asset are to give the child a say in consequences for certain behavior and allowing him to take on greater a responsibility for the decisions he makes about friends, clothes, and how he spends his time.

“But greater doesn’t mean abandoning parental responsibility,” Dr. Scales cautions. “It means gradually teaching children how to regulate themselves. When children feel listened to, their opinions sought and even some of them accepted or acted on, it can give them, over time, a strong sense of their capacity to make things happen.”

4. Personal Power:

Does your child feels a sense of control over things that happen to her? This asset, according to Dr. Scales, is crucial for a positive self-identity.

“Personal Power is self-efficacy, a sense that I can make a difference.” Feeling effective at a young age establishes the ability to set and work toward goals later in life. Barbara Locascio, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Georgia, advises parents to avoid rescuing their children when they have problems. “Let her come up with the solutions so that she can learn to problem solve.” Dr. Scales adds, “Parents build personal power from the youngest ages when they allow children to have a continuously growing sense of their emerging capacity to make decisions.”