Which gift to open?

My 7-year-old was given the opportunity to open one gift from his grandparents a week before Christmas. Eyes enormous, he looked from me to the tree. “Which one should I choose?”

Well, I began, when we face tough decisions at work, we go through a few key steps to help us decide.

“Like what?”

First, we gather some information about what our options are. He was intrigued, so together, we went to the tree, looked at, shook, and evaluated each package. One decidedly looked like a fishing pole. A couple of boxes sounded like legos.

Next, we would think about what was really important to us as we made the decision and predict outcomes. We talked about why he was excited about opening a gift now. Was it to see if he got what he was really hoping for? Was it to get something he could use right away? Was it simply to get any gift early?

He deliberated. If he opened a box of legos now, would he have time to enjoy them before the holiday? We were pretty busy, so he thought this was unlikely, and thus might be more disappointing than fun. If the long thin package really was a fishing pole, would he be excited, even though he really couldn’t play with it now? Was there a dependency in the gifts—in other words, how likely was it that one of the smaller boxes near the long thin box was a fishing lure or fly wheel—where he wouldn’t want one without the other.

His actual choice surprised me. He decided to take an unwrapped gift, which was a sweatshirt.

When I asked him why he chose that, he said: “Because I know I can use it now and enjoy it, and still save the others as a surprise.”

In the end, he liked that he controlled the decision and the outcome, and was satisfied with his choice. It also was a lesson he remembered, as weeks later he helped his sisters pick out a bed-time story by explaining potential outcomes of varied choices, urging them to pick what they really wanted.

(Special thanks to the Society of Decision Professionals, for sharing personal stories from their members—experts in the field and also parents, spouses, friends, and family-members.)

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