Grow Your Child’s Mind: How to Raise A Critical Thinker

Grow Your Child’s Mind: How to Raise A Critical Thinker

The parenting style that supports the development of critical thinking skills in childhood


 “Mom. I made a mistake”said my seven year old.

As the word mistake echoed around the two of us, I noticed my son’s scrunched up face. He was clearly worried so I sat down.

Shoulder to shoulder with my son I said  “I’m listening.”

“I’m still thinking.” He replied.

In that moment, I wanted to get up and tackle something from my never ending to do list but I stopped myself.

“Ok. I’ll keep you company while you think.” I said trying to be mindful and patient.

My mind wanted to race. To fix whatever it was and move on… Waiting was not as simple as it should have been.

The Wait Was Worth It

My son eventually told me about his mistake, and it wasn’t minor either.

My willingness to listen definitely paid off.

The mistake was quite bad. But it was an excellent opportunity for my son to learn from his mistakes.

I had almost ruined that moment with my impatience. Almost…

Don’t Let Shark Music Play in Your Brain

Armed with nothing but good intentions to teach our children important lessons, like “consequences of their actions” parents (myself included) can be so quick to tune into “shark music.”

Misbehaviour or mistakes happen and the mind is immediately preoccupied with how to discipline the child and fix the situation.

Dan Siegel, Psychiatrist and co-author of No Drama Discipline explains this quick jump towards worry as “shark music.”

Just like in movies when the scene is set and that awful music lets you know something bad, really bad is about to happen.

Our future fears and past experiences create sort of a background effect clouding our ability to stay in the present moment and encourage our children to find real solutions.

Automatic and negative thoughts like these are great examples of shark music:

  • This is an absolute disaster, what a trouble maker I have on my hands. She will never learn.
  • You know better than to do what you did…seriously this can’t be happening, NO MORE SCREEN TIME EVER AGAIN!!!!
  • Are you kidding me? I have a millions things to do and now this….you are NOT getting away with this.
  • Your choices have consequences you know!!!!

If you hope to encourage responsibility and problem solving, step one is to dial down that shark music.

Critical Thinking: Here’s How Kids Learn 

While there is plenty of research showing that structured critical thinking lessons in school can help bolster children’s inventive skills and language comprehension, such skills can start being developed much earlier at home.

The way you parent and discipline can impact how your child develops critical thinking skills.

It’s not necessary to discuss hypothesis or present your child with logic puzzles to inspire critical thinking.

Life presents children with loads of challenges and problems on a daily basis.

Give your child a chance to solve their own problems.

How much your child feels encouraged to think for himself and participate at home can positively influence the development of critical thinking skills.

The more opportunities to practice the better.


Critical thinking comprises a number of different skills that help us learn to make decisions. It is the ability to evaluate information to determine whether it is right or wrong. 

– Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD Roots of Action

We just can’t rush the process (at least not all the time).

It’s so tempting to point out the perfect solution to your child’s problem.

Coming to the rescue when things are going not so well can feel very rewarding.

While there is definitely a time and place for helping and making decisions for your children, trusting them to take the lead in many situations is important.

Does Your Parenting Style Support Critical Thinking Skills

Mistakes are Perfect Opportunities

Your child will inevitably make mistakes and misbehave as they grow. How you respond to such moments will influence what your child believes about themselves.

Skip consequences, Encourage Solutions

Giving consequences might steal away the perfect opportunity to teach your child what responsibility looks like.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • Standing in time out for spilling milk does not help a child learn to pour carefully or how to clean up messes.
  • Wearing a shaming sign for cheating on a test, doesn’t teach a child how to prioritize studying. Or why education is valuable. It doesn’t teach your child how to ask for help when they are struggling.
  • Not playing video games for hitting a sibling doesn’t teach a child how to express his jealously, frustration or annoyances in a constructive way.

Helping children explore the consequences of their choices is much different from imposing consequences on them. – Jane Nelsen D.Ed. author of the bestselling Positive Discipline Series.

A parenting style that supports children to find solutions and feel capable grows healthy, happy, thinking children.

When children are part solutions they learn to accept their circumstances. Even when they make big mistakes, misbehave or need guidance.

Instead of focusing on consequences, teaching critical thinking and problem solving can start with us saying: 

  • “Let’s dry up this water with some towels” And following up with an opportunity to practice and learn  “Here, why don’t you pour me a glass of water and yourself another glass.”
  • “Looks like this broke. Too bad. The good news is, we can glue this back together.” And following up with “If you would like to see something from one of these shelves, I’d like you to ask me first.”

Eventually these moments can turn into our children making good choices all on their own:

  • “I spilled water. I’ll get a towel!”
  • “Ooops, sorry I broke that. Can I help you glue it?”
  • “I made a mistake. And I think with a bit of help, I can fix it!”

The Big Mistake … Resolved

Remember that big mistake?

Turns out my son had broken his sisters bed. (yikes!)

After we sat together for a few minutes he told me how it happened.

Then he told me he had a plan to apologize to his sister and several possible fixes for the problem he had accidentally created:

  • Bella can sleep on my bed, and I will sleep on the broken one.
  • We can drive to the store and get a replacement slat, if you have time today or another day.
  • I have some allowance saved up and I will pay for the new bed slats and help put it back into the right place.
  • If papa let’s me borrow some tools, I can try to fix it. Duck tape might work until we get a replacement.

These were his own solutions. Solutions that came from taking responsibility for his actions.

I didn’t need to tell him it was wrong to break the bed. Or that there are consequences to his actions.

 My son already knew that.

He accepted responsibility and thought about solutions.

Getting angry or imposing consequences would have not added anything helpful to the learning process.

Mistakes and misbehavior that at first glance may seem like the very moments to impose consequences are often the exact opportunities for us parents to give our children a chance to work on their problem solving and critical thinking skills.  

Next time your child misbehaves or makes a big mistake, try to turn down the shark music and tune into the possibilities.

Whenever possible, let your child find solutions.

For more positive ways to discipline and encourage problem solving check out the “Complete Guide to Building A Happy Family Life” An online parenting class that offers you effective tools combined with the latest research on happiness and child development. Save 50% on your Enrollment with code THINKkids50

Peace & Be Well,
Ariadne

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

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