Critical thinking is up there with phrases like self-regulation and growth mindset, and for the most part, we don’t know what they mean or how to help our kids do them. As we journey through parenthood we need to remind ourselves, that despite continuing changes in the world, there are some things in life that have remained pretty similar, albeit for a name change or two. Critical thinking is one of those things.
How do you help your child think critically?
Firstly, we need to have a good grasp of what critical thinking is. A good critical thinker is someone who is able to make effective decisions, apply reasoning, analyze the situation presented to them, solve simple and complex problems in a variety of ways, and evaluate a given problem, situation, or outcome. Sounds complicated? Well it isn’t really – it’s just fancy ways of saying we want our kids to be able to work through situations of varying complexities and persevere. Stick with me-remember self-regulation-meaning the ability to keep oneself in check. Critical thinking is simply encouraging children to look at a problem or situation and determine how they should respond, and then do so accordingly. Not that hard, huh?
As our kids grow up, their learning and thinking brains grow too. Learning how to be a critical thinker requires us to firstly model good strategies and ‘massage’ the situation to help our child develop and learn. Here are a few ideas I have found useful.
- To develop critical thinking we must talk to our kids. There are plenty of apps, games and activities, but opportunities given to us while talking to our kids are just too valuable to waste! Keep these question words firmly in the front of your mind when chatting to your kids, ALWAYS! These words are vital to develop a whole range of things, but in this case, critical thinking. Who, what, when, where, why, how and feelings.
- Reflection on any sort of activity, event, or even boring old routine stuff can help you build the necessary language for critical thinkers. We are trying to gently move our little people past the black and white stage of understanding. So think about opening up those questions. Take your little person gently from the concrete answer, and by supporting their language through questions, using the questions above, you are helping them as they develop skills in critical thinking in a situation that is both safe and familiar.
- Another fabulous tool in your kit is to model how you would tackle a problem. Talk them through your day, detailing simple and complex problems you solved, situations you analyzed, and decisions you had to make. Ask them how they think you went. It is always amazing to get a child’s perspective of something. But be prepared, they are honest!
- The other buzzword at the moment is resilience and this is an important aspect of developing critical thinking. Our kids are not always going to get it right and there may be consequences. This provides us with a great learning opportunity, although heartbreaking all the same. Reflect with them on what went wrong and encourage them to think how or what they could have done differently. Prompt them if they are at a complete loss, sometimes emotions get in the way of thinking. This will help get their brains going again. And of course support them. A hug after something goes wrong goes a long way in encouraging them to get up and face the world again.
Don’t get phased by the buzzwords. It is just that, a buzzword for something we know and understand. Talking, questioning modelling and supporting your child will take you a long way towards developing critical thinking. And don’t forget the question words!