Second Step® Insights

Teaching Responsible Decision-Making

April 3, 2024 | By: The Second Step® Team

We often hear adults remind kids to “make good choices!” But have kids been taught how to do that? 

The ability to make responsible decisions isn’t something we’re born with, yet it may be one of the most important life skills kids need to learn. A key component of CASEL’s social-emotional learning (SEL) framework, responsible decision-making is defined as the ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. Simply put, it means making choices that are good for you and the people around you.

Responsible decision-making skills help kids learn how to evaluate situations, consider multiple perspectives, and weigh the pros and cons of their choices. More than just one skill, responsible decision-making is a multi-step model that builds on other important life skills like empathy, critical thinking, and perspective-taking. 

Research shows when kids learn social-emotional skills, including responsible decision-making, they do better in and out of school and later in life.

Deciding on the right choice isn’t always easy, especially when kids are still learning how to navigate their world. Empowering them with the right tools and teaching those skills early helps kids gain confidence in their ability to make responsible decisions at school and in their communities.  

Steps to Responsible Decision-Making

1. Assess the situation
Before choosing a plan of action, kids first need to define the situation. Curiosity helps them identify what is happening and who is involved.

2. Gather information
It’s tough to make a responsible decision without all the facts. Critical thinking helps kids gather the details about the issue they’re facing. Taking time for this crucial step reduces impulsive choices that could be unsafe.

3. Name possible solutions
This step requires problem-solving, empathy, and perspective-taking. There are often many solutions to a problem, with each of them having a different impact on those involved. How will each choice make people feel? Perspective-taking helps kids explore solutions from different angles.

4. Consider the consequences
Unlike with impulsive decisions, when kids make responsible decisions, they consider the consequences of their choices. It’s looking two or three steps down the line. What else could happen after making a particular choice? Is the outcome safe? Does it align with their values of right and wrong?

5. Reflect on the outcome
This important step helps kids evaluate if they made a good choice. Was the outcome what they expected? Knowing what they know now, would they make the same choice next time? If not, what would they do differently?

Practicing Responsible Decision-Making 

Learning the steps and then applying them to common scenarios is a fun and interactive way for kids to practice responsible decision-making. Consider this collaborative activity to deepen kids’ understanding.

Activity: What would you do?

  • Choose an age-appropriate example familiar to the class, such as going on a playdate or to a party where you know the host’s parents won’t be at home.
  • Discuss the situation. How many people will be there? Are there typical rules about this?
  • Divide into groups. Ask each group to consider all the different perspectives. Who might be affected? Would your caregivers approve of you going? What would the host’s parents think? Will you disappoint anyone if you go, or don’t go? Will it change your friendships?
  • Evaluate the choices. What are possible outcomes of attending? Should you take part? Should you tell anyone?
  • Name possible consequences of your choice. Could the situation put you or others in danger? Will you have broken trust with people important to you?
  • Gather as a class and share results. Were there concerns some groups hadn’t considered?
  • Have kids reflect on what they learned. Would they make a different choice now that they considered other perspectives and possible outcomes? 

Responsible decision-making is a key element of SEL. Learning these life skills benefits kids, helping them make good choices at school, home, and throughout their lives.

Learn more about teaching responsible decision-making with our Second Step® family of programs.