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Want To Raise A Critical Thinker? Step Aside And Let Them Thrive

03/22/2016 05:49 EDT | Updated 03/23/2017 05:12 EDT
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Studio shot of a young boy with a chalk drawing of a light bulb above his head

It is natural for a parent to have hopes, dreams and aspirations for their children. We want so many things for them, and there isn't much we would not do in order to give them the best in life.

We want them to be happy, to develop their talents, to use their intelligence and to experience joy and success in their lives. We want the best for them, but sometimes all of this wanting gets in the way of their developing.

These hopes and wishes are for the best things in life, but how do we actually get them there? How do we build that tool kit for them? Well, we don't!

Our children need to develop and equip their own tool box -- we cannot do it for them. This is not our job, nor should we be trying to make our children's happiness and success our goals.

This generation of parents is much too eager to do their children's work for them, and therein lies the problem. We cannot just wish them into a successful life -- they need to earn it and own it themselves.

Our job is to give them nurturance, security and a safe environment to grow and thrive in. It is their job to figure out who they are, what they have to contribute and how they can experience joy and satisfaction in this world.

It is not our job to protect them from all of the slings and arrows of life. In fact, it is the slings and arrows that will help them build the tool kit for life we so deeply want them to have.

We can develop a good launch pad for our children, and we can familiarize them with some great tools for their tool kit in life. One of the best tools is the ability to bring critical thinking into their lives. To be able to look at a situation and learn from it is one of the greatest gifts we can experience. The ability to analyze and approach a situation with reasoned judgments, and then form conclusions through examining the evidence and making your own decision is at the root of some of the greatest minds and successes in history.

In order to develop critical thinking we need to have curiosity, a bit of skepticism and the ability to learn from our humbling experiences. In my book, M.O.R.E. A New Philosophy for Exceptional Living, I explore how these elements are needed to build a truly exceptional life.

Here are some practical tips for creating an environment in which your children can learn critical thinking skills and begin to build their own tool kit for life.

1. Discuss the bigger picture. Talk about culture, politics and art around the dinner table with your children. Let them hear you talk about the world, what you enjoy and what you would like to improve. In order to build a larger world view we need to introduce some difficult and controversial subjects to our children.

2. Embrace diversity and curiosity. If you hold a judgment try to be aware of it, own it and be able to explain it. Is your own judgment based on reasoned thinking and evidence? Are you open-minded and comfortable with differences? Model a curiosity about differences.

3. Have boundaries. Being open-minded does not mean you are open to anything. It means you are curious and want to learn, but you are also aware of yourself and what you are comfortable with. It is healthy to demonstrate boundaries that are solid and consistent, but not rigid.

4. Create a safe physical and emotional environment. Let them know that they can rest in your home and that they are always cared for. Help your children identify and name their emotions. Let them know that all emotions are accepted, but set limits on behaviour. Let them know that there are no bad or good emotions, but that emotions are just like waves that come and go. Assist your children in understanding that they can have strong emotions and frustrations, and that you can work though any differences with them.

5. Have conversations. Do not jump too quickly to answer all of your children's questions. Don't be afraid to ask your children about their thoughts, feelings and ideas. Ask your children what they think, and why they think it. Make conversation a part of your family experience.

6. Be encouraging. Keep communication open by allowing different perspectives and avoiding criticism. Nothing shuts down a good conversation like criticism.

7. Listen! Listen! Listen! There is a reason we have two ears and only one mouth. Do twice as much listening as talking.

8. Model acceptance. Show respect for other opinions even when they differ from yours. Let your children know that it is ok for them to hold a different opinion than you. Remember, children who can express opinions and hold onto themselves even in the midst of differences will be much less likely to be influenced by negative peer pressure. Pick a topic in which you have a different opinion than your child, and then consciously demonstrate that you can remain respectful even when you see things differently.

9. Approach mistakes as opportunities. Walk them through their mistakes and treat the mistakes as learning experiences. Remind them about their intuition and instinct, and assist them in identifying difficult times where they ignored their instinct, and the successful times that they listened to their intuition.

10. Let your children make real decisions where they get to experience their own successes and their own failures. Real life has real consequences, so it is important that your children learn this step by step rather than in one devastating blow. Celebrate their successes, and let them experience their own hard-earned and satisfying feeling of accomplishment. These are the best building blocks for our children.

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