You may have read how the brains of young people aren’t fully developed until their late twenties and that is why they tend to make poor choices. While it may be true, it’s not because the brain isn’t capable of developing those areas at younger ages. It’s just that most parents have stopped doing the things necessary to help those areas of their kids brains develop. When left without training, the brain reacts as most muscles do….it may get there, but much more slowly than if there had been consistent exercise sessions.
Self control and making good choices are both a huge part of making the choices God wants your kids to make. Both are considered executive functions of the brain. There are lots of things you can do to help your kids “exercise” and strengthen this area of the brain. Thankfully, most are a lot more fun than running laps around a track!
Call your kids together. Tell them you are going to give each of them an opportunity to plan and execute something fun for the family. You can set parameters on what is done and how much money is spent. It can be anything from preparing a meal to planning a day trip or even a longer trip.
Most kids will jump at the chance to be able to “control” something their family does. How well they are able to actually plan and execute their choice is another matter entirely! Here’s the hard part for you as a parent. Instead of telling them what to do, ask questions. So instead of saying “We need a schedule for the day”, say “What are some of the things we need for the day to go smoothly?” If that doesn’t work, try “What could you do to make sure we get everything done we want to do that day?” Do your best to avoid just telling your child to make a schedule and then doing it for him or her when it’s not done quickly.
If you use questions instead of directions, your kids may come up with some very creative solutions. As long as they are safe…let them try as many as possible. Who knows? They may help you discover a better way of doing something. If their idea fails, ask what they would do differently next time. Posing it as a learning experience, rather than a failure, will make them more resilient.
Gradually increase the size and scope of the projects you give your kids the freedom to plan and execute. By high school, many should be able to entirely plan a family vacation with only minor supervision.
This activity may sound frightening to some of you. Just remember, although the brain isn’t technically a muscle, it acts like one in many ways. The more you exercise your kids’ executive functions in their prefrontal cortices, the more likely it is they will learn how to plan and make better choices in their personal lives as well. (This is assuming of course, they have been taught the choices God wants them to make!) So have some fun and let the planning begin!