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Help, My daughter won’t make a decision

I recently received a question via email – Chuck@projectpatch.org – and as I was answering it, I though maybe there are other parents who are struggling with the same thing.

A bit of context – I had spent five days in Michigan teaching about Tech Safe Kids.  Day 1 was focused on Raising Life Ready Kids.  The main idea for that section is that our kids need to prepare while home for the most important life skills including meeting new people, negotiation, decisions making, time prioritization and planning.  The question I received is in this context.

Here is a summary of the question.   “My 9 year old daughter tends to get into “impossible solution” scenarios.  It’s been an issue for awhile and we’re not entirely shure how to overcome them.  She gets frustrated with a situation and then shuts down completely.  If we offer her solutions to help overcome the situation then she shoots holes in the suggestions, gets angry but is unwilling to solve things.   She’s quits trying to solve the program and plays the victim”

I answer the question as best I can on this episode of the podcast but I’ve also included my notes for those that prefer to read rather than listen.

The Big Picture

Be careful not to make this about you.  It will feel like a personal attack but she is actually reacting to something else and taking it out on you.  She is feeling week and wanting to feel better.  She is most likely feeling confused and scared and you happen to be the easiest target.  Many families have a person who is the scapegoat and easily blamed for problems.  For many families it is the mom.  Just because it’s normal doesn’t make it right or good.

We also are a generation of arm chair quarterbacks and coaches.  We question other peoples decisions and actions all the while insulated from the actual actions.  We say what we would have done, should have done . . . yet we haven’t moved or even dared to place ourselves in that vulnerable position.  A key for us as parents is to be careful not to model this sort of thing.  We need watch our words and attitudes about others who are making decision and seek empathy and compassion rather than judging other people.

There also is a tendency with kids to “Horabalize” things.  Yes, that is a made up word but the idea is valid.  We tend to obsess about all the reasons something won’t work out.  We have found a lot of teens are helped when they realize they are horablizing rather than solving problems.

Getting back to your daughters emotions.  She is feeling week, insecure and inadequate in making a decision which is leading her to disengage quit trying.  The more she thinks about the decision the worse she feels.  At the same time, she feels powerful when tearing down ideas and making others look dumb or foolish.  This combination simultaneously hurts her and her relationships.

What I like seeing in this question is that mom is doing the right thing but allowing her daughter to struggle with decision making.  It would be easier to avoid all this chaos but not allowing her to make decisions but that would result in dependence rather than independence.

What our kids need

Decision making is not an innate skill . . . that means none of us are born with it. We have to learn it.  Kids who never are thought to make decision tend to become easily overwhelmed, impulsive, selfish or turn to victim thinking.

I wrote a blog called, “Decisive without being impulsive” based on book by Chip and Dan Heath called Decisive.  They list four aspects that influence poor decisions making

  • Too quick – not stopping to think
  • Not enough options
  • Too focused on self- rather than how it impacts other people
  • Focused on now, rather than later

I’ll share more later on skills to learn but I’m convinced that if we are left on our own, we will make poor decisions and get into habits which harm us and our relationships.

Another element that I’m concerned about from reading the question is that I see some hints that your daughter may be struggling with perfectionism – the enemy of decisions and action.  Perfectionism is defined regularly as the need to be perfect or appear that way.  Many research projects support hat perfectionism leads to procrastination and avoiding challenges.

At our Family Experience we also lead families through understanding their temperaments using the Ministry Insights Personality Profile.  This is similar to the DISC profile but we’ve found much more accessible and complete.  There are four main types and each of these make decisions in different ways.  They also need different information for making a decisions.

  • Lion – Very vast decision maker – relies on gut.  Can’t explain or defend decision to others that clearly but they are ready to act.
  • Otter – Very fast decision maker, optimistic big picture.  Convinced others will join them and they are ready to talk others into it.
  • Golden Retriever – Slow decision maker, takes into account social and emotional factors.  Always wanting to know everyone will be happy.
  • Beaver – Slow decision maker, takes into account facts and data.  Always wanting to be correct and needing more information.

Personality is important to consider because our kids may need more or less time than we do.  They also may be seeking different inputs than we naturally value as parents.  Forcing a beaver or golden retriever into a quick decision will be frustrating to you both.  Forcing your lion or otter child to consider facts may be frustrating as well.

What Is Our Role As Parents?

We need our kids, not matter their temperament to learn how to make decisions and be accountable for them.  There is a process for learning which in it’s most basic form is caught, taught and practiced.  The difficulty with learning how to make a decision is that most of the action can’t be observed since it is going on in our brains.  As parents we need to go out of our way to bring them along on our mind journey as we make decisions.  We have to be verbal and explain things as well as ask a lot of questions.  

Our kids also need help with the decision interfering challenges like perfectionism, laziness, entitlement and people pleasing.  Here are some resources that I’ve found helpful.

Two Fronts of the Battle

One front focuses on reducing the shutting down when she is making a decisions.

First, don’t reward the shut down.  Life should get harder rather than easier when she checks out.

Practice the constant improvement cycle in your family.  For Project Patch we focus on planning, trying, measuring, improving and then doing it again.  This process places a high value on action and willingness to evaluate.  This process requires vulnerability but the result is action and great results.

Focus on respecting and highlighting people who try hard things.  My family uses the phrase, “Our family tries difficult things!”  This simple phrase focuses on effort over results and that we don’t take the easy route but focus on a bigger picture.

We also focus on giving respect and highlight people who fail and try again.

Finally remember that we teach the “X” process of launching kids.  This requires a constant focus on teaching/discipline as well as coaching and mentoring. The goal is to increase ownership and accountability.

The other front in this battle has to do with making good decisions.  Chip and Dan Heath teach the word, WRAP as a way to consider making better decisions.

  • Widen Your Options
  • Reality test your assumptions
  • Attain distance before deciding
  • Prepare to be wrong

This is going to require vigilance and many conversations.  It will be uncomfortable but the process is worth it.

Jenn – I hope my thoughts have been helpful for you and your daughter and for others too who are listening.

If you have a question that you’d like to have me answer just send it to chuck@projectpatch.org