HomeHealth & BehaviorEmotional Well-Being

Ask the Experts

My Child Needs Help Making Decisions

By Dr. Joseph Gianesin, Behavioral Consultant


My 9-year-old is a smart girl, and she typically gets all A's. Her problem is she can't make a decision, for fear of being wrong, or not choosing what someone else might choose. It has now gotten into her problem solving at school, and always wanting affirmation from the teacher. Even her test-taking is involved because she takes so long to make a decision, because she does not want to be wrong. Her testing takes longer than the rest of the class. Is there anything I can do to help her?


Your daughter wants to be right and needs affirmation from others, especially adults, that she's doing well. When she has trouble making a decision, it's a sign that she doubts herself. This seeking the approval of others is causing her to experience stress and lose confidence in herself.

I have two suggestions to help her: First, you should take some time to help her understand the decision-making process. Generally, adults weigh the pro and cons of a decision, look at the alternatives and arrive at a solution. Yet often, despite our good intentions and thoughtfulness, our decision may not be the right one. When this happens, we reassure ourselves that we made the best decision at the time based on our grasp of the knowledge and facts. You'll need to model this for her and have her help you make some routine decisions that you take for granted. For example, take her to the grocery store and have her look at two items. What factors do you take into account (e.g., price, ingredients, organic)? Modeling this process will help her understand the decision- making process.

Second, time limits should be set with her regarding decisions. We don't always have an unlimited amount of time to make a decision. I often use a timer with students to encourage them to make a decision quickly. I recently asked a group of my graduate students to raise their hand if they had trouble making a decision about what to order when they go to a restaurant. At least 25% of the class admitted they had trouble making a decision in a timely manner. I then told them that if I were to take them to lunch and would pay for it, they would have to make a decision in 2 minutes otherwise they would be responsible for the bill. They reluctantly agreed that they could make a menu choice but that they'd prefer not to be rushed. Try these techniques with your daughter, and be sure to praise her when she does make an independent decision.

Dr. Joseph Gianesin is a professor at Springfield College School of Social Work. He has more than 25 years of experience as a child and family therapist, a school social worker and a school administrator. Along with his academic appointment, Dr. Gianesin is a program and behavioral consultant for public schools in Massachusetts, helping them develop and manage programs for children with significant mental health problems.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.