When my husband and I first got married, he was shocked at the number of passionate debates my immediate and extended family regularly had.
Nearly any topic, large or small, could spark a three-hour discussion—and it was rare for everyone to be on the same page. We would disagree and argue our points relentlessly, but it rarely deteriorated into a true argument. Eventually, we’d drift off onto a less-debatable topic, or perhaps abandon talking altogether to enjoy a family game instead.
My husband’s family did not do this.
Discussions in his family were almost discouraged, with everyone shying away from controversial topics. They kept their mouths shut when they disagreed. He was very uncomfortable with my family’s debates, and he never participated.
Over the next couple of years, my husband began to see the value in these seemingly dramatic episodes. He realized that our discussions were an effective way to develop critical thinking skills. With so many people with varying experiences, backgrounds, and educations, my family’s home was packed with intellect and reason.
The atmosphere of logic forced us to base our opinions on fact and principles, and we pushed one another to think through each topic thoroughly.
My husband eventually came to enjoy debating himself and began to encourage his own family to try their hand at it. He also hopes to encourage the same spirit of discussion with our children to sharpen their critical thinking skills and help them work through problems logically.
So, what is critical thinking and why is it valuable?
VeryWellFamily describes critical thinking as “… the ability to imagine, analyze, and evaluate information in order to determine its integrity and validity, such as what is factual and what isn’t. These skills help people form opinions and ideas as well as help them know who is being a good friend and who isn’t.”
In other words, critical thinking is a vital skill for a well-balanced, well-rounded adult.
It’s also highly beneficial to children, as it can help them to better understand the world around them and even offer a certain amount of protection and security.
While children may have the opportunity to develop some of their critical thinking skills at school, parents should encourage them to practice those skills at home in their daily lives. There are many strategies that parents can use to accomplish this goal.
1. Encourage Healthy Debate
“Debate everything!” TeachThought tells parents. “…Debate is useful for a couple of reasons: it helps students look at alternate explanations—good for analyzing experimental results—and can also develop teens’ natural communication skills. For example, ‘Should Bottled Water Be Banned?’”
Family life offers ample opportunities for discussion. From “is it ever right to lie?” to “is it more effective to plant a garden or buy our produce?”—nearly any topic can be turned into a critical thinking exercise.
Lively and spirited debate is a practical way to teach critical thinking skills. You can encourage your child to think through their opinions and challenge their assumptions. Allow them to speak freely in these types of conversations. There is one caution: never let the discussion become emotional or hostile. Keep the debate on a friendly, civil plane. Passion should be encouraged, but aggression is the opposite of helpful discussion.
Employ this rousing strategy, and your child will be well on their way to developing strong critical thinking skills!
2. Encourage Questions
A mind that questions is a mind that evaluates and analyzes. Encourage your child to ask questions and always put effort into your reply. When children feel like they’re bothering you or that their question is lacking, they’ll be less likely to ask a question in the future.
There are no stupid questions if the asker is sincere and curious!
“As exhausting as it can be at times to answer a constant barrage of questions, it’s important that you encourage your child to question things. Asking questions is the basis of critical thinking, and the time you invest in answering your child’s questions—or finding the answers together— will pay off in the end.”
This quote from VeryWellFamily highlights the beauty of encouraging your child to question everything. From childhood to adulthood, a curious mind trained correctly will benefit not only your child’s personal life, but also society as a whole.
3. Encourage Planning Ahead
Some children are spontaneous and bound from one idea to the next without serious consideration or forethought. While you can direct this trait into a more positive version of itself, you can also help your child curtail it to a certain degree. Planning ahead and examining all sides of a situation is a valuable skill that can often save a lot of time, frustration, and even money.
Encouraging your child to think before acting engages their critical thinking skills. The Family Learning Center notes, “Planning ahead is an important strategy because it allows children to slow down and think about how to approach a task before attempting it. Everyone at home can practice this essential ability.”
Being able to form a plan, calculate any necessary preparations, and foresee possible outcomes will be an invaluable asset to your child throughout their life.
4. Encourage Problem Solving
“When dealing with problems or conflicts, it is necessary to use critical thinking skills to understand the problem and come up with possible solutions, so teach them the steps of problem-solving, and they will use critical thinking in the process of finding solutions to problems.”
This suggestion from Michigan State University points out a practical way for children to use their current critical thinking skills and expand them at the same time. Children are naturally curious and often use a trial-and-error approach to discovering the solution to a problem. As they develop their critical thinking, they will employ trial-and-error less often and begin to think through the problem logically.
As a parent, you can teach your kids to do this by breaking the problem into smaller, manageable-sized pieces. Fragment the question and let a logical line of thinking put it back together to find the answer. Encourage them to break a task into several steps to accomplish the goal. Show them various practical strategies for avoiding inevitable mistakes and encourage them to use these strategies independently in the future.
But wait! Parents are often tempted to step in right away and help when their offspring faces a difficult challenge. Try taking a step back and allowing your kid to struggle for a bit to engage those critical thinking abilities. Many parents are surprised when they don’t intervene, and their child finds a satisfying solution on their own!
5. Encourage a Thinking Habit
Critical thinking can become an everyday lifestyle, from analyzing the lyrics in a song to comparing prices at the grocery store. Practice strengthens this habit, so parents can start by modeling it in their own lives and sharing their thought process moment by moment with their kids.
According to TeachThought, children’s everyday environments offer terrific real-life opportunities for developing this critical thinking habit. They suggest a few places to start:
- Local or national news
- Video games
- Personal communication with others
- Social media interactions
Critical thinking can help dispel the fog and clarify problems or situations. When critical thinking is a habit, life can be much easier to navigate.
6. Encourage Reading
Reading improves critical thinking skills. Many students use book clubs to prepare themselves for college life and cultivate reasoning abilities.
“Reading improves vocabulary, organizational skills, and the ability to read, comprehend, and analyze text,” Idaho Ed News reports. “Plus, it can provide people with important historical perspectives, encourage sympathy for other human beings, and promote appreciation for diversity and understanding of other cultures. Moreover, literature can help students develop the critical-thinking skills many employers think are lacking in today’s college graduates before they even get to college.”
Encourage your child to read a wide variety of literature. From history and mathematics to current events and opinion pieces, extensive reading exposes the mind to a stimulating variety of ideas.
A Worthy Pursuit
As Kars4Kids points out, “Critical thinking is about questioning: is this all there is to this story? Is there another side? Am I being manipulated? Will a given product fulfill the promise, the claim of the packaging and advertising?” This excellent summary highlights the necessity of critical thinking skills in everyday life.
Parents have a huge responsibility to equip their children to march into life and confidently influence their world. Teaching critical thinking skills at home is one of the most challenging and beneficial ways to accomplish this goal. Thankfully, logical skills are as necessary as they are useful, and opportunities to practice and develop them lurk behind every question, task, and social media post.
My family employed these strategies in our everyday family life to encourage us kids to expand and grow—and you can, too. The techniques presented in this article are just the beginning. There are many ways to engage your child’s critical thinking abilities, but it’s your job to jumpstart this amazing journey.
Do the hard work of instilling these habits, and you’ll experience the joy of watching your child mature before your eyes!