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Get Your Child Thinking Critically With 3 Powerful Tricks

Student gazing out classroom window while thinking critically.
Critical thinking skills are important in nearly every arena of life. In school, at work, or even at home, a strong ability to think critically makes one a better decision maker. However, critical thinking skills are developed over the course of a lifetime, so how do start instilling them in our child?

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Thinking critically is imperative for understanding the world around us. A strong ability to think critically brings new richness to interpersonal relationships, a more comprehensive perspective of world news, and savvier decision making. Thinking critically and connecting ideas, however, requires a concerted, conscious effort. Consequently, it isn’t necessarily in a young child’s nature to think critically. Even our adult default mode is generally more reactive than reflective, so critical thinking seems something we make habitual. Although students may only be familiar with thinking critically in a test-setting, there is no shortage of opportunities to train our critical thinking skills in the wild.

1. Allow Your Child to Struggle

Critical thinking is most intensely flexed in times of necessity. Critical thinking requires a particular kind of effort and perseverance best brought on when challenged. Whether it be a tricky homework problem, or a difficult toy to assemble, children think deeply and creatively when faced with hard problems. In these short stints, we exercise our reasoning skills, and just as importantly, our endurance.

We have a tendency to swoop in to help our children when they encounter an obstacle. However, some low-to-no-risk challenges offer a rich opportunity for your child to grow as a critical thinker. For instance, we present puzzles to kids knowing the length and difficulty of the task. We facilitate this sort of “struggle” because we recognize that puzzles are tools for developing spatial reasoning skills, concentration, and confidence. Why not allow for challenges that demand thinking critically?

 Consider allowing your child to choose a board game to play, but require they teach you, and anybody else playing. Personally, I think board game directions tend to be plenty challenging. This particular task requires analysis of game pieces and rules, inferring ambiguous instructions, and communicating their understanding verbally. No less, the excitement and anticipation of gameplay could act as a motivating force, pushing them over the finish line.

 2. Make Room for Thought

Few people constantly think critically. Much of our day is either rather routine, or simply taken at face value. Many of us wake up focused on achieving small tasks, like showering, making breakfast, getting to work, etc. As adults, we tend to snap into a more critical mode of thought when engaging intellectually. For many of us, this means thinking critically whilst reading the newspaper or making financial decisions. Less often, however, do children have these opportunities. That’s where you come in.

 By simply asking your child “Why might that be?” or “Why would he/she/they do that?” in conversation, you encourage abstract and inferential thought. While many parents ask their children questions when actively listening, questions that require mere recitation of specific details do not evoke critical thought. Questions that are open-ended challenge our child to think creatively and reason, and are usually somewhat easy to pose.

3. Encourage Creation

Any chance your child gets to think freely and rely on themselves gets them thinking critically. Creative projects require some degree of planning and predictive ability, which are imperative in developing critical thinking skills. For instance, baking incorporates creative thought as well as prediction skills. A few ingredients can be used to make a variety of baked goods, leaving room for ample choice, but requiring thinking critically and planning. Moreover, we make small seemingly intuitive predictions while cooking without realizing it. When baking, we think to ourselves “I’ll preheat the oven, because I’ll need to use it later,” or “I won’t dirty this bowl yet, because I’ll want to use it soon.” These minute considerations come only with critical thought. 

Pro-Tip: Most creative projects require thinking critically, so find a project that’ll keep your child’s focus. In the spirit of the aforementioned baking theme check out how you can turn your kitchen into a classroom!

Critical thinking skills are, like many things, developed over the course of a lifetime. The more opportunities we take to think critically, the better we become at it. Younger kids, having fewer experiences to think critically, have room to grow in their ability. Of course, your child is thinking critically sometimes, but you can further help hone their skill by facilitating critical thought. Critical thinking requires time and focus, so remain patient. Thinking critically can be especially frustrating for children, due to its open-ended nature and reliance on practice and experience. However, investing in opportunities that get your child thinking critically can be done slowly, starting with something as small as a question. How will you get your child thinking critically? See, it’s easy as that!

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