Helping Children To Think For Themselves

Today, children are faced with many tough choices beginning at a very young age, and therefore, there is a growing need worldwide to teach children to think for themselves.

To help them learn to deal with potential difficult situations, parents must help their children learn to make good choices on their own. How? By allowing them to practice in an environment in which thinking well is valued and modelled, where their community of inquiry is characterised by structure and connected conversation. In this form of dialogue, children are encouraged to be aware of how they think, in a context which encourages them to follow their own argument and those of others.

By helping your child elaborate and provide meaningful comparisons (similarities or contrasts), you are forcing their little brains to create more neural connections that will, in time, become patterns for thought and explication. You will actually help develop your child’s brain!

Though It May Seem Difficult Raising Children Who Think For Themselves, It Can Be Done When You Follow A Few Basic Guidelines:

  • Make sure they are mentored with love.
  • Demonstrate with your own behaviour. You can teach your children to think for themselves by showing them at every possible opportunity how you make decisions.
  • Allow your children time to play freely. Unobstructed play is crucial to raising children to think for themselves, it forces them to decide what to play with and how.
  • Give your children small choices. Ask them to pick between 2 or 3 outfits, and no matter what they choose, let them wear it. As you build up their confidence with these smaller decisions, ease into larger choices, such as what to have for dinner, or ask their input on where to go for vacation.
  • Avoid criticising the choices your children make. This is a form of second guessing and may make your child feel bad about their decision. It may also cause them to be insecure about the next decision they need to make.
  • Refrain from making judgments or offering unsolicited opinions about situations your children find themselves in. If they hear your thoughts or advice, they may feel as if they need someone else to tell them what to think or feel. Instead, ask them what they think about the situation, and what they believe the choices are.
  • Explain any rules that exist in your home or their school. Helping them understand why rules are in place will encourage children to decide to follow them.
  • Discipline your children when they make a poor choice. Make sure to keep your message short and simple. In 2 or 3 sentences only, inform them which actions you are disappointed with and why, and what the consequences are.
  • Focus on the bad decision or behaviour when disciplining, and not the children themselves. Refrain from telling them they are bad or wrong and use phrases like “your behaviour is out of line” instead. This prevents children from feeling personally attacked and helps them understand that it’s their actions you are unhappy with, not them.
  • Follow through on discipline. Your children need to learn that there are consequences for their actions and that making the wrong choice will lead to an appropriate punishment.
  • Refrain from threatening or bribing your children. Using rewards or threats to influence their decisions will send a message that they aren’t capable of making good choices without external incentives.
  • Trust your children and respect their right to decide on their own. Once you’ve laid the groundwork, give them room to make choices, and don’t interfere unless there is imminent danger. They’ll make good and bad decisions along the way, but to get better at the process, they need to have the freedom to do so.

Lizaan Spangenberg
Biolink Attention Training Head Office