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Inculcating responsible decision-making skills in children

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IF YOU are ever wondering just how many decisions you make in a day, neuroscientists predict it is a mind-blowing 35,000! Again, someone once told me that life is just a series of decisions, one right after another, each determining the life that we live.

  Sometimes, the decisions are small and inconsequential, like my morning selections (clothes to wear, shoes to go with the cloth, how to pack my hair and so on). However, sometimes, the decisions are big. They have the power to shape us, such as which college to attend, and the degree to pursue, whom to marry or where to settle down. The ripple effect that follows can make you feel like you are riding a tidal wave.

  Regardless of how big or small these decisions are every day, these choices are written into our stories. Given the amount of decisions one is asked to make throughout one’s lifetime and the potential gravity of the repercussions, I feel it is our duty to teach the skill of responsible decision-making to our children.

  Responsible decision-making is the ability to make constructive choices about one’s own behavior and social interactions in an ethically responsible way. It includes being able to: identify problems, accurately analysing situations and options, evaluate the potential consequences of those options to solve problems and make choices and reflect on them all while considering the well-being of both oneself and others.

  Speaking on the skills that are required for responsible decision-making, Mrs Ogechukwu Anakwue, a teacher in one of the private schools in Awka metropolis said “responsible decision-making can be said to be the ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. Essentially, all aspects of a potential decision and its consequences must be considered before a choice is made. To make the most appropriate behavioural choices, students need to learn how to evaluate the situation, analyse their options, and consider the potential consequences of each of those options for themselves and others.

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  Now, let us talk about the skills that are associated with responsible decision-making, because for students to effectively make responsible decisions, they must develop competency with the following abilities:

  Identify the problem: Students must be able to accurately recognise when they have encountered a problem. Problems can range from difficulty in meeting the expectations in a classroom, to choosing whether or not to complete homework, or even deciding to engage in unhealthy behavior, such as lying or using banned substances. It is important that students are able to appropriately acknowledge when they are faced with a problem. For some, recognising that they are in a difficult situation can be challenging as a result of their language-based difficulties or social communication weaknesses.

  Analyse the situation: Once students have succeeded in identifying the problem, they must then learn to analyse the situation from a variety of angles, which include identifying how and why the problem arose. To build this skill, students may benefit from teacher guidance to fully understand their role in the developing situation.

  Solve the problem: After students have sufficiently identified, analysed, and considered the problem, they then need to develop and practice methods for solving problems. They need to identify possible options and explore the potential consequences of each option. Teachers can play a role in guiding the practice and implementation of these methods. Individual students may even need to be creative in their solutions to fit their own profiles.

  Consider ethical responsibility: In addition to the natural or identified consequences of a decision, students must also consider any ethical or moral obligations they may feel or be held to. For instance, before a student chooses to look at someone else’s test, the student will need to consider the potential ethical and moral repercussions of cheating.

  Evaluate and reflect: Evaluating and reflecting on what happened is almost as important as the decision making process itself. When students take the time to evaluate how successfully they identified, analysed, and solved a problem, they are more apt to engage in appropriate reflection on what went well and what could be improved. This reflection allows students to note any necessary changes and work to incorporate those in their next decision-making opportunity.

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  Also, there are contributing factors for making decisions which include considering things like safety, risk, benefits and consequences. To demonstrate responsible decision-making, students need to learn skills in critical thinking, open-mindedness, sound judgment, reasoning, problem solving and identifying solutions.  In order to make good choices, they also need to consider not just themselves, but others as well. It is important to be able to understand how your choices affect both yourself and others because the decisions we make can be far reaching, it is good to have the wisdom on how to practice intentionality with our decisions. That is what makes responsible decision making so important”.

  Also speaking on how teachers can help students to build responsible decision-making skills, Mrs Eucharia Oguche, a teacher, said, “for teachers to help their students to effectively develop the skills of responsible decision-making, they must imbibe these important virtues:

  Encourage listening skills as it relates to being open minded to other opinions: Let your students share their views on current events or relevant topics such as the impact of social media on our well-being. Many of the decisions we make are based on personal bias. In order to arrive at a fully educated decision, we have to be open to hearing and exploring all sides before cementing our position.

  Avoid rescuing: Decision-making grows stronger each time students have to navigate a tricky situation on their own–making a poor decision, facing the natural consequences and then reliving a similar situation, with new choices and lessons gathered from the first unsuccessful experience is possibly the most lasting way to learn this skill.

  Promote mindfulness: A rushed decision is rarely a good one. Teachers and parents won’t always be around to remind kids to slow down and think. Giving them a foundation of mindful thinking will set them up for success when they need to filter out the noise, reflect on the situation at hand and make the wisest choice.

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  Learning to make their own choices helps children be more independent, responsible, and confident. It gives them a sense of control over their lives, reducing anxiety and promoting resilience. Furthermore, it encourages self-exploration and helps them to solidify their values. As teachers, we have the power to make those 35,000 decisions easier for them to navigate and conquer, also remember it is okay to let them make a few bad decisions that is how they gain experience to make better ones.

  Then, speaking on the importance of responsible decision-making, Mrs Nzenagu Cordelia said “as children grow, they face ever evolving challenges that require them to make increasingly complex decisions. For a kindergarten, this might be as little as deciding to share a toy, for a senior in a secondary school, this could be recognising negative peer influence and incorporating that knowledge into their decision-making. Learning to consider the positive and negative consequences of a decision is essential at any of these stages, and responsible decision-making skills can help children negotiate the following:

  Ethical standards: By being challenged to make decisions, children evaluate and develop ethical standards that influence character building.

  Social norms: Decision-making skills that incorporate positive social norms as an influence help children navigate the difficulties of adolescence and resist peer pressure and peer influence.

  Consequences: Children with strong decision-making skills can evaluate potential consequences of actions in order to determine what choice is the best option.

  By developing responsible decision-making skills early, children are prepared to face the real world challenges that will impact the course of their lives. With those responsible decision-making skills in place, these children are equipped to lead happy and prosperous lives.

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