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?