One Potato Two Potato Three Potato Four

January 24, 2024 by  
Filed under Family Focus

By Marty Norman  

How do you make decisions?  Do you sit down and map out a strategy weighing the pros and cons, the potential up and down sides?  Do you seek counsel from advisors? Or do you jump in feet first and pray that your decisions won’t cause a catastrophe down the line?


Making decisions according to God’s plan is the best way I know to prevent fallout and the ripple down effect of consequences. I was reminded of the importance of decision -making the other night when the grandchildren and I tried to pick a restaurant for dinner.  The choices were pizza, Chinese, Mexican, or hamburger. We made our decision by reverting back to the potato game.  Chinese won but this experience reminded me that some decisions are too important to be decided by the potato game.

As parents, one of our main jobs is to teach our children and grandchildren good decision making skills. Believe me, if they don’t learn in the home, the hard knocks of life will become their teacher. But learning under our roof requires sacrifice and hard choices.  

Studies show that you can’t be a friend and parent a child at the same time. There is time for making friends when adult children are out on their own. But before that time, our role is purely parent to child.  Too many parents try to look and act like their children, not parenting, modeling or teaching.  

Being a parent is a huge responsibility. One of the things I have observed as a therapist is that good decision making is a learned skill.  Some kids get it intuitively but the majority have to be taught.  Learning about consequences, natural and set, is the best learning tool around.

Different stages call for different measures.  Here are a few suggestions and examples:

1. Toddler – Give small choices of two: apples or oranges, red or blue. This helps young children build self-esteem.  Recently my grandson Strother, two, chose quinoa over white rice. Can you believe it?  Sometimes kids will choose healthy in spite of themselves.

2. Preschool – It doesn’t take long for a toddler to want more control. Choosing clothes is a good way to encourage individuality. James, four, is into football jerseys.  Given the choice he would wear the same one over and over.  Having more than one keeps the conflict down to a minimum.  I remember my own sons at his age.  Many a day they went to nursery school in stripes and checks because they had proudly dressed themselves.

3. Young elementary – Great opportunities while they are still in the nest. Learning to reason and understand is easily taught because they still want to cooperate. Once a rule is clearly stated and the consequence (punishment) connected, the child can begin to see the cause-effect of actions.  Lily, seven, is learning this lesson.  Always pushed around by older siblings, she is now learning to be accountable for herself. Recently she pushed Strother off the bed. This time the consequences were hers. The lesson: If you choose to bully, a consequence is not far behind.

4. Late elementary – The bird is wanting to fly. Pre-teens get younger each year so finding the balance between decision making and defiance is tricky.  This is a good time to start loosening up on the discipline and let natural consequences take over.  Pointing out the results of behavior, if done enough, can sink in. Pick your fights carefully. Jack, ten, wants his long hair.  Wisely his father has decided to save that battle for far weightier issues.

5. Middle school – The bird is flapping his wings. Too young to be independent, but thinking they know everything kids at this stage are a challenge, to say the least. Many parents tend to give too much freedom and decision making too soon for this is when kids experiment with everything. Forming a parent-peer group opens lines of communication with parents of their friends and gives consistent rules and a strong foundation.

6. High school- The bird is flying.  This is the last chance to help ground a kid before they fly away.  Not rescuing but allowing consequences is the best preparation for life. Negotiated consequences are a great tool.  When Lee was a junior we had strong rules that involved driving. We wanted the consequence to make a statement so we announced a one month grounding from the car. He negotiated for one week. We settled on two. After one infraction he found it extremely difficult to hitch rides and he learned a valuable lesson.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four, the pot’s boiling, the soup’s cooking, and the birds are learning to fly. What a great time to teach kids and grandkids good decision making skills so as not to leave their choices up to chance.  To paraphrase Psalm 22:6: raise a child in the way he should go and he will not soon depart from it.

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