OODA Loop Parenting

What does a military strategy tool have to do with parenting? More than you might expect. The OODA Loop was developed by Colonel John Boyd of the United States Air Force to aid decision making in uncertain and chaotic environments. Ah, there’s the parenting connection! There are few things more chaotic or completely uncertain than raising children. While the OODA Loop continues to support decision making for the military, businesses, and leaders, its application to your toddler’s next tantrum or teenagers next challenge will surprise you.

The OODA Loop is an acronym for the following process:

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act

First, you observe the problem or challenge. Then orient yourself to the situation so that you can make a responsive and appropriate decision and take action.

In Real Life

Let’s looks at a real-life example. Your daughter falls off her bike, skins her knee, and is now sobbing and completely refusing to finish the bike ride to get back home. You can’t blame her! A skinned knee on concrete hurts. However, it is also necessary to get back home with all members of your party and large pieces of athletic equipment.

Put the OODA Loop to work. The interaction could go something like this:

Say what you observe/observed. “Wow, Sara, I noticed you just took a fall. It seems like it hurts.” Allow the child to respond and explain what hurts. Also offering a hand to her back or arm and making eye contact will help bring her out of fight or flight, stay grounded, and help her know you are paying attention.

After communicating what you observed, you can orient your child to the situation at hand. “Okay, let’s take a deep breath so we can figure out what to do next. See that building right there? Remember we went by that building pretty soon after we left the house. So, we probably have five minutes left to ride home. We can either walk with our bikes back, which will take a little longer, or we can ride back after you have a minute to let your knee feel better.”

Certainly, your child will prefer one option over the other, which is totally fine. Both options are possible solutions. Allow your child to make a decision. Then, determine what needs to happen before you can take action. “Okay, we need to get you and your bike back up. Do you want a drink of water before we get started back?”

The decision gets made with little drama, fewer tears, and clear communication. Finally, put the plan into action and you’re back home instead of lingering on hot cement stoking the fires of an injury turned tantrum.

Three Tips

This OODA Loop process can be applied to any situation. A couple of tricks to make it even more effective:

  1. Take a deep breath before starting. Otherwise, the first thing you might observe is your own anger or frustration, rather than truly observing the situation as if watching a movie scene.
  2. Use cue words or phrases that allow older children to walk themselves through the process:
    • What did you notice? (Observe)
    • What is really going on? (Observe)
    • What do you think your options are? (Orient)
    • What could have made the situation better? (Orient)
    • Which choice are you going to make? (Decide)
    • Is there anything I can do to help you decide? (Decide)
    • When are you going to do it? (Take action)
  3. Be open to creative solutions that your children come up with. Just because we are adults doesn’t mean our ideas are always best.

The OODA Loop is an amazing tool to make quick and effective decisions of all kinds. Even better, your kids can be making better decisions too!

Picture of Cole Bershback

Cole Bershback

Cole is a wife and mom of three. As a Registered Dietitian, certified yoga instructor, and Unbeatable Mind Coach, she has committed her life to wellness and the pursuit of our highest potential. If grit and love had a child, it would be Cole Bershback.