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Teaching Kids to Think Before They Act

2 min read

I went to lunch with some friends and colleagues the other day and a strange thing happened. The waitress asked if a few of us wanted to upgrade our meals to include a side salad. It was just a couple bucks extra and most people said yes without even thinking. Then, when the food arrived, they barely touched their salads! Essentially, they tossed a couple dollars away. I asked by buddy why he upgraded. He shrugged and said “it was a good value.”

It’s a totally innocuous situation, but it stuck with me. To me, it’s a clear example of impulse. Most of my friends didn’t stop to ask if they were hungry enough to eat a salad or if they even wanted one. The cost of adding a salad seemed nominal, so they did it. It’s not how I would’ve looked at it. I was taught to look at what you’re giving up versus what you’re getting… which got me thinking about the traits people develop and why they develop them.

Before you call me a crazy person, think about it. If you’re taught from a young age to treat every transaction like an equation, wouldn’t this inform your decision-making abilities as an adult? In my mind, it works like this. The side salad costs me $2, but it has a value of $0, since I don’t really want it. Would you trade $2 for $0? Me neither! Would my daughter? It’s my responsibility to make sure she learns how to evaluate that question for herself.

Again, this goes back to impulse. Do you jump at something because it seems good or do you take a second to evaluate it, to make sure it’s good? The world is full of these examples. A person equipped to think beyond the apparent value is someone who can avoid the mistakes that come with acting on impulse.

I want my daughter to grow up to make good decisions—decision that’ll benefit her and keep her from getting the short end of the stick. As a parent, that means focusing on teaching the opposite of impulse: Patience.

I decided to try a little experiment with my daughter. I asked her if she would rather have two five-dollar bills or six five-dollar bills. She’s a pretty smart kid who’s got a knack for math, so she jumped on the five-dollar bills no problem. Good start so far! So I tried something different. I asked her if she would rather have a KitKat bar or two dollars. She chose the KitKat bar. In her mind, it was worth more. It’s not the best answer (you can buy two KitKats with $20, but it shows she’s thinking about things from the right perspective—value.

All in all, I’m confident my kid is going to grow up avoiding impulse decisions. Sure, she’ll make a few—we all do. What matters is being able to think before you act when it comes to major decisions. She’s got quite a few years before she needs to think about buying a car or changing her career, but I’ll bet she’d pass on the side salad if we went out to dinner tonight.

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