How do I make x decision for my child??
Updated: Dec 9, 2019
As a pediatrician, one of the most common questions I get asked are - should I do xyz? Should I let my baby cry it out? Should I send my toddler go to daycare or stay home? Should I let my child go to my brother’s house that has 40 cats in it? (True stories)
Often times, parents are just looking for facts and information, opinion from an expert about whether the specific situation has an impact on the child - given her age, developmental level, family structure, and current societal expectations - that is more beneficial than harmful.
However, often times even if parents have the correct information, we can still feel at a loss as to which decision to make. Surely, given the modern day’s dizzying array of choice in everything from our daily morning drink to where we can live, many of us get decision fatigue. But fear not, after about 13 years of providing counseling and advice to parents, I’ve come up with a few basic principles to help parents figure out how to decide.
For the thousands of decisions we make every day as parents, there are two main things to think about:
1. Is this safe for my child?
2. Is this relatively healthy for my child and our family?
If the answer is yes to both, then you can rest easy knowing that the decision you make is the right choice, no matter the reason.
Let’s also define both safety and relative health. Safety is defined as no harm and no risk - to your child’s physical health, mental health, emotional health, and development and learning. Healthy means that the decision you make will benefit the child - whether physically, mentally, and/or emotionally. The reason I throw in the word "relatively" is because sometimes we may make decisions based on the fact that it’s fun but maybe not entirely healthy (I’ll give you a great example - I sometimes take my son to midnight donut runs on Friday evenings; it’s become a bit of a family tradition between us and my sister - it's not healthy at all, but it promotes bonding with family, which is important for his emotional health). As long as the overall health benefits outweigh some of the negative health benefits, then you're still golden.
For those decisions that you simply can't tell what the right thing to do is (especially when all options satisfy the first two conditions), there is perhaps a 3rd question you may ask yourself, which is:
3. Does this align with my/our family's values?
I often tell parents some decisions are absolute (”Should he wear a helmet when scootering?”) but some are entirely personal. This is where each parent‘s personal values come in. A great example is schooling, which is decidedly a personal choice. As long as Questions #1 (safe) and #2 (healthy for the mind) are satisfied above, then how the parents decide where to send their child to school is dependent on their values.
'Til next time!