Cultivating critical thinking -
Helping your kid develop an ability to make good choices
We all want to see children develop the ability to make good decisions - decision that encompass honoring their own needs and feeling, as well as those of others. We want them to eventually include the bigger picture reality that their decisions can and usually do have. We also want them to be willing to ask questions when they have them, and to try to find the answers to questions they don’t understand. Their ability to relate well to the infinite challenges they’ll encounter on a daily basis rely, in part, on their critical thinking ability - the ability to take in details of the situation that is currently happening, and then decide on what is best to do by considering what they've learned from their past experiences, as well as the feelings and needs of all involved. Naturally, we all get better at this over time – yet some kids get better at this much faster then other kids
. So... how can you as parents begin to help them cultivate this capacity to make better decisions?
“Should I do my homework now?” “Should I push my sister or tell mom?”
This is about using very simple questions to help them explore and consider what they think, feel or need, in addition to the other myriad details of the situation in question.
“Should I apologize?” “Should I ask for help?" “Should I drink that beer?”
“Should I get in the car with that person?” “Should I do my chores now or later?”
“What is the right thing to do or say here?"
Instead of asking too many “yes” or “no” type questions, and instead of giving your kids the answer to most questions that they can answer themselves, help them first explore what the answer might
be. This is perhaps the best opportunity you have to help them develop their critical thinking skills
. I’m not talking about those moments where you must be more directive with them – that certainly has its place. What I’m inviting you to look at is where you may do that a bit too much - where there actually is space for asking them great questions that will help them know themselves and their relationship to their world much better.
Give less great and insightful speeches... and ask more great and insightful questions.
It is worth mentioning that the frontal cortex, the "Seat of Reasoning", is the last part to develop in the brain. While it does mean that abstract critical thinking may be limited in a younger, less developed brain, it does not mean that kids can't become better thinkers when good questions support their development and self-awareness.
Here are effective questions you can use to explore a situation.
It's not about memorizing this list. It's about learning how to engage their thinking process with enough curiosity and challenge that they look more deeply into their own experience. Of course, make these words your own - ask them how you would ask them. Stay in your curiosity.
"What do you think it will take to make that happen?"
"What do you think about that?" "Why is that?"
"Is there a better way that you can ask that / say that?"
"Have you ever _____?" "What was that like for you?"
"What would you have wanted instead?" Why is that?"
"What would it be like for you if ______?"
"How'd that feel?"
"What do think we need to bring with us?"
"Why do you think that is like that?"
"What do you need to get ready for that?"
"What do you love about that?" Why is that?"
"What would it take for you to trust them more (then you currently do)?"
"What do you like/dislike about that?" "Why do you think that is?"
"What are some options here?"
If they say, "I don't know", try these:
"I know it's a hard question. Think about it. Take your time"
"On a scale from 0 to 10, how much do you want to ____/how ready do you feel to_____?"
--> If they score it a '6', ask "Why is it not a '5', or what would make it a '7'?"
These questions can build incredible connection
between you and your child - as long as they are not asked like an interrogator, and you are willing to be asked questions as well. They also are highly effective in helping cultivate emotional intelligence
(what we are really
feeling, and why, exactly, we are feeling that way), and of course, critical thinking
- so they can process through adversity
as well as have greater success
in the challenges they take on. It may take longer then you usually take to get an answer - but this process is not about getting answers quickly. This is about creating this connection with them, and supporting them better in their ability to think about the challenges they’ll face when they are not by your side.
Let this be your call to prepare your kids for life
, lest you get stuck in feeling you need to protect them from it.
"Rarely do we find people who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
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