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Our Blog: February 6, 2012

Parenting Dilemmas: How To Decide When You Can't Decide

In parenting, many decisions are easy: Don’t run into the street. Take turns with your friends. But many of the most important decisions AREN’T easy, including when to start Kindergarten. Will she be ready? Or is it best to wait?

When it comes to tricky parenting dilemmas, there usually isn’t a “perfect” decision. Starting Kindergarten early (or late), whether to change schools and when to allow your child on a sleepover are just the start of difficult parenting dilemmas that you’ll navigate over the years to come.

There will be pros and cons to whatever choice you make. That means the process of making a decision – and changing it along the way, if needed – is at least as important as the actual decision itself.

Start by talking it through with everyone who knows your child and family well. Ask everyone their opinion, but decide not to decide – yet.  Don’t allow yourself to be swayed by strong suggestions. This is your choice to make, not grandma’s or the neighbors’.

Then, try my “ESP” method for making tough parenting decisions:

  • “E” is for EXHALE. Get comfy someplace you won’t be disturbed for 15 – 20 minutes. Have something to take notes with nearby. Clear your mind and take several slow, deep breaths, exhaling longer than you inhale. This will calm your nerves – feeling centered and relaxed is super-important for thinking clearly.
  • “S” is for SCAN. Scan through the pros and cons of starting school this fall, or any parenting dilemma you’re pondering. Unemotionally think through the “what ifs?” of your choices. Write them down. Then, bring a picture of your child into mind. Scan her, considering all her strengths – and her challenges. Reassure yourself that any choice can be modified over time without horrible consequences. Clear your mind again with more breathing. Jot down notes on your experience, including insights, questions and concerns. Write everything down. Then, PUT IT AWAY. Give your mind a few days to unconsciously “percolate” on the situation. Make a deadline for yourself, so that you can give your mind an “assignment” to complete. Often, a decision will be clear by then. If not, make the best decision you can, and take a step in that direction. “I’m not 100% sure, but I think we’ll try CJ in Kindergarten in the fall.”
  •  “P” is for PLAN. Take the first step of your plan – perhaps, take a school tour and look into the enrollment process. If you’re still uncertain, reconsider your plan logically, cutting through the irrational fears and worries that often get the best of us with a couple of long, deep breaths.

Bottom line is this: You’re the parent. You get to decide. And you also get to change your mind. If you start your child in Kindergarten, and after several weeks you still feel concerned that she’s not ready – no harm done. “That was fun, but also hard, wasn’t it? One day, we’ll do Kindergarten again.” You’re also modeling how to make a careful, considered, “imperfect” decision – like most of the important ones in life. Good luck!

About the Author

Dr. Heather Wittenberg

Dr. Wittenberg is a psychologist specializing in the development of babies, toddlers, preschoolers — and parents. She offers no-hype, practical parenting advice on her blog BabyShrink — rooted in science, and road tested in her own home as the mother of four young children. She has helped thousands of parents over the years and knows that the most common problems with young children — sleep, feeding, potty training and behavior — can be the most difficult ones to solve.