By Dianna Flett
Today I’m writing on helping our children understand the concept of values-based decision making. In our Girl Smarts and Character Connectors program, we find time and again this skill provides a great foundation to help children navigate difficult situations.
(Note: Information about this online workshop is at the end of this post. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like your child to participate or take part of our online beta program in September.)
So far, we’ve discussed how to explain the concept of values to your children, flesh out why using values to make hard decisions is important, and you received a list of values to use in your family discussion at home.
So how do we bring this back together and show values-based decision making in action?
In our school programs, we present children with age appropriate, relatable situations and show them how to use their values to choose their actions. We provide scenarios they might face and help them work through connecting their values to their decisions and actions.
Situation Number 1
Your friend is having a sleepover and you want to go, but your younger brother is performing the same evening in a school program. Your family wants you to attend your brother’s performance. What are you going to do?
We ask the children to show us the value they will use to make their decisions. If they write each of their values on a separate sticky note, they can select and hold up the value they will use. Most children either select family or being a good friend (see Part 2 for a list of values) to help them guide their decision in this situation.
Regardless of the choice, we allow them to explain their decision. They all usually say they will go with their family, but then we get a bit more real with them. We ask, “OK, how many of you really want to go to that sleepover?”
After a torturous moment, their hands fly up. We thank them for their honesty and then talk about how to speak with our family to seek compromise if it is possible. You can decide what steps you’d like your child to take when they try to talk to you about a situation like this.
- Is an emotional approach going to work best? (i.e. “Will stomping your feet and yelling lead me to see your point of view? Probably not.)
- Is there room for compromise by you and the child? (i.e. “How can we both get what we want to from this situation?”
- What are your non-negotiables? (i.e. “There are a couple things I won’t budge on—going to the program, staying the whole time—but I may consider dropping you off after the performance or arranging for another sleepover time.”)
If you are so inclined, this may be a time for you to explain the value you are using for the decision.
Our second scenario revolves around something a bit more serious.
Situation Number 2
“You find out your good friend is planning on running away after school because they are being bullied and your friend can’t stand the idea of going to school any more. What do you do?”
This is always interesting because many of the children want to support their friend through conversations and trying to comfort them. We let the conversation unfold for just a minute and then ask
“Is this a kid issue or a grown-up issue?”
At that point the children have an “ah ha” moment and come to the correct conclusion that this one is best handled by a grown up.
They shouldn’t take on the weight of trying to make things better for their friend, even though they want to help them by talking or listening or texting. An adult has the most resources to help their friend stay safe and to get some help.
In today’s world of children doing self-harm, running away or worse, this is an important conversation to have early (fourth or fifth grade) and often. In our program, we have seen girls as young as 8 years old cutting because of anxiety and stress. I’ve also experienced great pride hearing that one of our Girl Smarts girls has sought a counselor to request support for a friend they see struggling.
I’ll close with our last scenario because it also equips parents with a tool. This is an especially important scenario because many of our children are heading into middle school soon.
Situation Number 3
“You’ve gone to your friend’s house for a party. Your friend told you adults would be present to chaperone the party, but when you get there, no adults are in site (or you see things happening that make you uncomfortable). What value do you use to guide your decisions?
This one is tough because kids fear looking “childish” in front of their friends. The “being a good friend” value may play against you. Ask them what they would do. Most of them know the correct answer is to call home and tell their parents what’s happening; however they don’t want to be known as a “snitch.” I’d suggest you work on a strategy like the one I explain below to help them stay safe.
Give your children a safe phrase they can either call and say or text when they feel uncomfortable. Safe phrases are not new, but here is the twist: Once they call and you hear the phrase (they can call when their friends are listening since their friends don’t know the phrase), you know to call or immediately respond and be the “bad guy” demanding they leave the event. This is not the time to expect them to be brave enough to do the right thing. The goal is to get them to a safe place.
In our household the safe phrase was “are the dogs fighting?” If the boys texted or called and used that phrase, we knew they wanted out of their situation. My next step was to provide a made-up reason they had to leave the party. I would raise my voice and tell them something like: “I told you to clean up your room before you left, and I’m standing here in a pig sty. I’m coming to get you right now, young man! Go wait for me where I dropped you off.”
I didn’t care if they rolled their eyes while I spoke, had me on speaker phone, or told their friends how awful I was to make them leave such a great party. They now had an excuse (their very mean mom) to get out of there.
We must have a plan in place to get our children to a safety as they grow away from us. Whatever it takes; get them to safety. This later played out when a son in college had a roommate threatening suicide with a gun in hand. While we didn’t play around with hidden phrases, we told our son to leave the area immediately while we notified the young man’s family and support systems (including the local police). They must understand their safety is the priority.
Getting used to making values-based decisions is a deliberate process. It’s hard for adults and hard for children. Having discussions with your children on how personal and family values guide them, you’ll be ahead of the game in developing values-based leaders in your home.
In my next post, I’ll talk about the best skill we can give children to stay true to their values under pressure: The art of saying “no.”
Virtual Workshop Information
As we transition Girl Smarts and Character Connectors to online platforms, I’d like to offer this program to my readers. Email me at email@example.com letting me know you are interested, and I’ll prepare and mail supply packets to your child. We’ll also set a time when we can come together virtually to bring this workshop to you. I will offer this program in a girls’ session and a boys’ session for ages 8-10. We need responses by August 10 so we can arrange a date for this virtual class. There will be a fee for this program to cover the instruction and the supplies.