Teaching Character: Prudence

Posted on Dec 6, 2012 by No Comments
Teaching Character: Prudence

Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance. Gleefully my late father would pull this gem outta his back pocket along with a spare hook and sinker after I “caught” the pier instead of a fish. Or he’d toss it about when I groused about studying, more with a waggle of a finger than a twinkle in his eye.

The man had a way with words, no? Did I mention he was a psychiatrist?

So this was how I was introduced to prudence. Not exactly the best way to teach young minds about exercising good judgement, but his heart was in the right place.

So, prudence. Otherwise known as forethought, rational thought, or wisdom. Prudence is executive functioning. It’s abstract thinking. It’s integrating self awareness with self analysis and self control. In short, it has nothing to do with the way a healthy young mind works. Not one under 5 certainly, and barely even a mind under 21.

That’s because the brain doesn’t fully develop this ability – executive functioning – until 21. Seriously. 21. That’s a long time for us parents to wait for our children to make good decisions. Sigh. Oh, and by the way I’m not a brain scientist, but my sister is (yea, sis!).

Until our children’s brains catch up with our expectations, there are a few ways to help your child practice good decision making while the stakes are low and you are around to pick your child up.

1. Let them make stupid decisions. I know, I know. This sounds ridiculous. But letting your child fail, even fail terribly, at decision making gives them the confidence to actually learn how to make good ones, provided the consequences are “teaching moments” and not debilitating.

Hell, if they make seriously bad decisions at 4, 7 and 13, and you help them correct their ways, then a) they have no where to go but up and b) they will trust you to help them.

2. Adjust your expectations. By understanding that, physically and mentally, your child WILL NOT make good decisions most of the time, then imagine your delight when they do. This way, you’ll automatically give the proper acknowledgement and praise to those good decisions rather than taking them for granted.

It’s hard for your child to think something through, to weigh the consequences. Meet them where they live: in the murky swamp of emotions, reason and consequences.

3. Hug it out, B*tch. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Ari from Entourage is one of my favs and I say this every chance I get). Love them every minute they fall on their faces. Help them up. Hug them tight. Talk things out so that your child will have an understanding of how and why the decision they made was more stupid than good.

It’s so easy to withhold love and affection when we are disappointed in our kids. It happens. Sometimes we even shut down. But at that moment, when you feel like you have to turn away from your child (or anyone you love, really) because you don’t like what they did, that’s the moment you double down on your love.

Yes, there are myriad ways to talk about making good decisions. In fact, you can talk talk talk about how to reason, how to weigh pros and cons, how to empathize with others. And all that practice is good. But the best practice for prudence is recovering from stupid decisions.

And what better place to make stupid decisions than the safety of your family? So keep the space safe for your kids to face-plant, help them up when they do, and that’s how you’ll teach good judgement.

Oh, one last way: model it. I saved the best for last, huh?!?

photo credit: limaoscarjuliet

Posted in: Parenting

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