Intentionality is the ability to act deliberately and consciously with a plan, a goal, or a purpose in mind. Intentionality involves a high level of emotional and mental core competency because only a fairly mature person can consider choices before acting, rather than simply reacting impulsively.
In the first three years of life, your baby will not practice intentionality per se—though he can make decisions and begin to put some thought behind those decisions. By parenting with intentionality, you can use these first three years to prepare your baby to act intentionally when he does develop the skills to do so.
You can begin by showing your baby that you respect his preferences. By taking care of his needs and wants, you honor his first choices and judgments and teach him that his inner judgment is valuable and worthy. You also reinforce his actions and encourage him to express himself.
As your child’s world expands, his desire for autonomy and need to strengthen his will also grow. The more practice he has in making simple daily choices now, the easier it will be for him to make more important decisions wisely and confidently later in his life. When you offer him choices, such as which shirt to wear, you give him the chance to develop his analytical and decision-making skills, along with the opportunity to experience his intuition and desires. What are the causes and effects of this choice? What feels right? Over time, he learns to consider a range of factors and view-points that contribute to a thoughtful decision.
The process of acting intentionally involves curiosity, reflection, planning, and persistence. By stimulating your child’s curiosity, getting him involved with his own projects and responsibilities, sharing control by offering him choices, and helping him reflect on his decisions, you help him develop intentionality.
Hideko Yoshida at Dream Window Kindergarten [where I taught in Japan] encouraged me to use the following seven levels of judgment when making a decision. These levels are a set of tools for looking at the aspects of a situation in a holistic way. When your child has a decision to make, consult these seven levels together to explore the decision from a variety of viewpoints. The chart below shows an example of how you could use them when making decisions about food and clothing.
Most people struggle with decision-making for their entire lives. The prospect of making decisions can paralyze them, or they may fearfully follow the crowd and end up living with choices that do not reflect their values or desires. You can help your child create a life of his choosing and increase his chances of happiness by showing confidence in his judgment and teaching him how to make good decisions early in his life.