Key steps in the decision-making process
1. Work out the problem: Help the child identify and label their feelings so that they can understand the problem.
2. Plan to solve the problem: Depending on their age and abilities, prompt or help them to brainstorm solutions. Talk about what might happen with each possible solution. This encourages children to consider different solutions before choosing what to do next.
3. Do something about it: Sometimes a child will need your support to take action, or the reassurance that you’re nearby. As they get older, children will be able to do more problem-solving themselves and let you know how they go later.
Ask the child about the choice they made – did it help or not? This is important – if you don’t check back and show the child how to try again, they may lose an opportunity to learn, or lose confidence in your capacity to help them.
Strategies for early childhood educators
From birth, children gain confidence when adults provide gentle guidance and, over time, encourage them to take reasonable responsibility for themselves. You can:
Provide a loving, safe, predictable and responsive environment: In this environment, children can explore and practise making decisions.
Create opportunities for symbolic play: Symbolic play boosts thinking and problem-solving skills. Children think creatively during this kind of play. They learn how to negotiate with each other and to hold several things in mind at once. Symbolic play stimulates basic skills that mature into the ability to organise play, think things through and cope with feelings.
Model planning skills: Being able to think ahead and plan helps with problem-solving and decision-making. This ability begins in infancy and develops over the first few years. You can model planning, talking aloud as you plan, and giving children chances to practise planning in ways they can manage.
Play games and tell stories: Toddlers love ‘peek-a-boo’, ‘hide and seek’, and games where they can copy each other’s actions. These games help children build on thinking and planning skills. Preschool children like to play games like ‘Simon says’ and ‘statues’, which require them to use self-control and think before they act. While telling and reading stories, children learn to think ahead when adults stop and ask them things like “What might happen next?” or “What would be a different ending?”
Practise learning: Give children the opportunity to:
- practise decision-making from as young as possible
- try things and succeed (this builds self-esteem)
- learn from mistakes
- practise attending to a task (by breaking it down into small sections they can complete and achieve).
Learn about decision-making skills strategies for school educators here.
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) (2018). Core SEL competencies. Chicago: CASEL. Retrieved from https://casel.org/core-competencies/.
Decision-making early childhood
The way adults interact with young children is very important for their emerging decision-making and problem-solving skills.
Connect through strong relationships.
Assist families to foster mental health and wellbeing.