Last week my daughter cut her hair from two-thirds of the way down her back into a pixie cut. Her dad, her grandparents, and I were nervous; we all worried that she would hate her new look. But I was also proud of her. Nearly every girl in her school has very long hair that they wear loose, and I like that she wanted to be different.
I did my best to support my daughter through her decision-making process, and the experience made me realize that there are useful steps parents can take to help their kids make tough choices—whether they are considering quitting a sports team, changing schools, navigating a difficult friendship, or chopping off most of their hair.
1. Don’t React Right Away
Parents tend to instinctively resist when kids propose a sudden, dramatic change, and in many cases, they react with a resounding, “NO!” But as kids get older, they need to learn how to measure the weight of their actions, and parents should increasingly step back and let them make their own choices—within reason, of course.
2. Institute a Waiting Period
Whenever possible, we try to wait an appropriate length of time to let a new idea or plan settle in. If our kids are serious about taking a major step, waiting a week or two will not make a big difference, and if the plan is half-baked they usually drop it. This also leaves time for kids to consider other options.
3. Do Your Homework
Encourage you kids to do some research before they make a significant change. My daughter started collecting pictures of haircuts she liked. After she chose one, she watched a YouTube video on how to style hair in that cut. The video caused her to hesitate because she realized that a short cut with curly hair meant quality time with a heat appliance every morning.
4. Help Your Child Succeed
If your child decides to move forward, do what you can to smooth his or her path and limit risk, without micromanaging. For my daughter’s haircut, we called a friend who is an amazing stylist. While we can’t always afford her services, we wanted to go to someone we could trust do it well.
5. Have a Contingency Plan
The hardest part of making a big decision is dealing with the outcome, which is what we worried about in the case of my daughter’s haircut. Talking through what could go wrong, and what to do if it does, helps mitigate consequences. We encouraged my daughter to cut her hair a week before school got out for the summer. That way, all her friends could see the new do but if it was terrible, she would have the whole summer to grow it out.
Taking risks and facing consequences are part of growing up. How do you help your children handle big decisions?