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Sanctuary in the Home: Modeling shared democracy

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sanctuary-pieThis is Part 3 in a series of posts regarding implementing the Sanctuary Model in the home

By Denise Morganthall


The missing link in many families today is what is known as “shared democracy” or, in other words, shared decision making.


Decision making sounds simple, but can be life altering and affect those around you. Children must cultivate good decision-making skills to become healthy, mature adults. But one survey found that 40 percent of children felt their opinions did not matter to their parents. Shared decision making is crucial for your children to feel connected. As parents we need to start when children are young to help them develop decision-making skills. Allowing our children to make choices about simple things gives them confidence in their ability to choose well.


As a family it is important to share with our children decisions that we make. For example, if we are going on a family outing we can provide options about where we can go. Do we want to go to the movies, roller skating or bowling? We often will not all choose the same thing, so we will also learn compromise. It is important to note that there will be some instances when adults need to be in charge and have the final say. However, it is up to the adults to also find appropriate times when children can be involved in decision making, allowing them to share power and control over decisions that affect them.


Below are some pointers to help in your children’s decision-making process:

  1. Educate your children about decision making. Children are known for making decisions without thinking. We need to teach them to take their time, look at the big picture and evaluate the pros and cons of the decisions they make.
  2. Teach by example. Model your own best decision-making skills where your children can watch and learn. For example, if you are shopping and see a $300 watch you would like to buy, you can say to your child, ‘I would love to buy that watch, but I know I need some money in the savings account for unforeseen circumstances. You are teaching your child responsibility and that we can’t have everything we want.
  3. Offer choices. Simplify the decision-making process, particularly for younger children. You can ask your children what story they want to read before bedtime. Provide a couple of choices and let them decide. The more choices your children have, the more they learn the process of evaluating the consequences. Parents who make all the choices for their children deny them the opportunity to practice decision making in a confined and safe environment.
  4. Support and reward good choices. This encourages a pattern of wise decision making among children. The child who adheres to his curfew will receive extended hours. The teen who chooses a good group of friends may be more likely to be trusted with a group of strangers. Honor and praise your children when they make good decisions.
  5. Let your children fail. As terrible as that may sound, we are actually helping our children learn that not all decisions will produce desired results. We all make mistakes; we are not perfect. In order to grow and change, we learn from our mistakes. Many times we want to step in and correct children or steer them in different directions to ensure a good result. That’s normal as a parent, but the time will come when your children need to make decisions and you won’t be available to help. Give your children the support to discover through trial and error.

Empowering your children to make their own decisions at an early age can foster independence, self esteem and problem-solving skills that will be very beneficial when they are adults.


Denise has been in the mental health profession for 15 years. She is a mother of 4 and an advocate of Sanctuary. She is a Sanctuary representative for KidsPeace and a member of the Sanctuary Institute. Denise is also a life coach and is pursuing a career in freelance writing.


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