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Raising Kids Who Think

Raising kids who think about their world and make thoughtful choices. From mamasmiles.com

One of my primary parenting goals is to raise children who can think for themselves – about how the world works, and about the choices they want to make and why they want to make those choices. Kids who can think for themselves are more resistant to peer pressure, have better impulse control, and are more resilient in the face of bullying. Here are a few things Mike and I are doing to help our kids learn how to think before they act – or react.

Raising Kids Who Think: Five Steps


Kids will tell you so much, if you will only listen! Often kids take a while to answer questions – and it’s tempting to jump in and offer up an answer. I have learned that patiently waiting pays off – even if, sometimes, I have to wait a few days or even weeks! Sometimes they’ll bring a subject up again long after I’ve forgotten it, and sometimes I’ll ask them again after waiting a while, and they will have an answer ready. Other times it’s a matter of waiting a minute or two, just long enough for them to gather their thoughts. Some of my favorite conversations with my kids are those they started – as we walked to school, played on the floor, and even when they were intentionally delaying bedtime.

Schedule free time

Modern life can be unbelievably busy. I find that school alone keeps my kids very busy, and I could easily fill the remaining hours with enriching activities. But we limit activities as much as possible because we want our kids to have time to think about things that wouldn’t pop into their heads automatically – the random thoughts that make their way in when you spend a morning digging in the sand, drawing on paper, or making mud soup. So far, this approach seems to be working well – I walked into the kids’ room the other morning to see them discussing the following agenda (written up on their white board): 1) Birth –> death, 2) Animals, and 3) What can we do to change the world?

Ask curious questions

When your child tells you something, ask questions – but make sure they are curious questions, that tell your child that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say and want to learn more about their point of view. Resist the urge to ask questions that you think will lead your child to reach a particular conclusion.

Let them hear you think

You can learn a lot about thinking by listening to someone else think out loud! This can be a little daunting at first, but it is so important! If kids can see parents think through a difficult problem, make mistakes, and keep working their way through, they will be able to think resiliently themselves. I also find that my kids are fabulous question askers – and that they often get me thinking about things in a new way.

Spend time in nature

The intricacy and beauty of the great outdoors is a wonderful way to leave everyday distractions behind and create a space where kids feel free to talk and ask questions. Sometimes having something to do in nature helps break through silence – walking, building sand castles, wading in streams, or even taking pictures of plants.

What are you doing to raise thoughtful kids?

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

22 thoughts on “Raising Kids Who Think”

  1. Wonderful tips and SO important. We don’t want to raise robots who just follow “because mom said so”, but who understand how to make wise choices for themselves. I’m sure it’ll be invaluable in the later years when they’re faced with all those “teenage vices” we hope/pray they will avoid. xx


  2. Love this post, Mary Anne! It came through my pinterest feed and I am gobbling it up…I love the point about asking curious questions and also thinking out loud. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks so much, Mary Anne! Thank you for sharing such wisdom with the world around you. Those points, if lived, would make much discussed in parliament unnecessary.
    How do you do it? I have not been online much since November. Just keeping up with the laundry, household, children and food keeps me busy day in, day out at the moment. Nell is asleep right now. I want to get out most of this summer. We finally finished off purchasing the piece farmland/forest/stream next to my in-laws and I am planning on spending lots of the summer there. Boy, I admire you. :)

    1. Oh, how exciting that you have bought that piece of land! As for how I do it, I don’t keep up with the laundry, or household…

  4. jeannine: waddleeahchaa

    Amen Sister! Absolutely one of my biggest goals and your tips are wonderful. I’ve made it a priority in our family for the children to have an abundance of free time. The way they explore and the things they create are amazing.

    Right now they are in their room arguing over how to proceed with their collaboration game. I’m staying out of it. Solving problems and conflicts is part of learning how to think!

  5. Natalie PlanetSmartyPants

    Great list. Your children are definitely little thinkers :) I am so with you on free time. It’s hard in Silicon Valley not to give in to the pull of “more”. I wish my daughter had a constantly available playmate to ponder some of these questions that your children are discussing between themselves. What we do often is ask her opinion or, before answering her questions, we are asking her to provide her own take on an answer. This also gives her an opportunity to flex her reasoning skills before looking for an easy answer from an adult.

  6. I think this a vital part of parenting – teaching children who grow up to be thinking individuals, and not followers in a faceless herd. Thanks for these tips!

  7. I love these tips and your emphasis on raising children who can think! It is so important on so many levels. Another way we do this, especially now that the boys are into building and legos, is by not stepping in, but staying out of their way so and letting them figure out how to create what they are trying to create. Our oldest son (4.5) is also getting into video games, and we take the same approach with the games. He can get frustrated as he tries to solve problems in the games, but we encourage him to keep trying and work through the problems/challenges himself instead of stepping in and doing it for him.

  8. It is so tempting to jump in and give answers, I really need to stop doing that. Now that I think about it, I really do not *listen* as often as I should. Great tips, thank you for sharing.

  9. What a lovely post and an adorable photo of Anna! I hadn’t thought about letting them hear me think – that is a wonderful suggestion!

  10. Love this post! Great tips. I especially love the comment about allowing down time. This is so important! Kids are much to overscheduled today! If there’s no family time and down time it’s difficult to establish values, communication and thought. Thank You! I must share! :) Angela @bhbktoys

  11. I love the picture of Anna!!!

    Your use of ‘curious’ rather than ‘open-ended’ to describe the questions you ask will hopefully trigger better ones from me. Thank you!

  12. What a wonderful topic, with such good suggestions and ideas! I just stumbled upon your post on G+ and found your blog, so glad I did:)

  13. I love this post. Patience is hard since I’m a “need it now” type of person. I’m learning to be more patient through the learning how to read process and hope to extend it to helping J think for himself. I love little kids’ minds and what they think about is fascinating and often very amusing.

  14. Sorry if I posted this twice. A great article. When my older kids (Now 21 and 19) were young, we had them in every activity we could possibly afford and get them to. With our younger kids we are making an effort to be home and have more family time and more down time. A few nights ago we built a fire in the bar b q and sat out there doing nothing in particular, listening to them chatter. It must help kids think and problem solve when they verbalize. It certainly helps me be more connected to them.

  15. I bet this is going to be a post that’s good to come back and see the comments.

    I’d agree with everything you said, especially the free time. I’d add in:

    talk about your movies and TV shows as you watch them. pause it and ask questions about what the characters are doing and why they do it.

  16. Thank you for these wonderful tips, MaryAnne.

    I especially like the advice to listen. Sometimes I’m multi-tasking, driving, or doing some other task that it’s hard to focus on the kids, but I find that the more I do, the more they’re able to question and share what they’ve learned.

    I also like the advice to question curiously. I’d like to add that we should also question or hold a discussion without judgment. Or to keep our reactions in check. Have you ever had a moment where your kid is asking you or telling you something but then your reaction is too much that they clam up? It’s like we just need to be sounding boards for them; people who will listen to their train of thoughts without jumping in, much less with our opinion or, like you said, directions on where their thought processes should go.

    I just read a book called “All Joy and No Fun” and in it the author mentions how kids are natural philosophers. They’re born with a built-in “why” because they’re coming to terms with our world. Questions like, “What is water?” We attribute philosophy as a luxury profession, something educated adults do. Yet here are our kids, doing just that every day. And apparently this kind of questioning tends to get squashed around school time when they learn that there are such things as a “good question” (and its opposite, a “bad question”), unfortunately. That struck me so much because I want my kids to grow up to be little philosophers questioning and thinking about their world, however strange or odd their questions might be to some.

    1. I agree, Nina! Part of the reason I chose the word “curious” is because I don’t think you can ask a genuinely curious question that is also judgmental. I agree, also, that kids are natural-born philosophers. They look at the world without any of the blinders we add in as we grow older, and I love that. We can learn a lot from our kids!

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