1. Build on their interests.
“Find a child’s niche,” says Michelle King, PhD, an assistant professor of early childhood education at California State University in Los Angeles.
“Children are very passionate about things. If you can find something that they are interested in, you can use that to help them think critically.”
King gives the example of her own three-year-old son who loves watching animals and wildlife shows on television. When he is watching one of these shows, she might ask him questions like: “What do you think is going to happen next? What do you think the animal is thinking? How would you handle this situation if it was happening to you?”
When children have a sense of control over their environment, they feel empowered and are more likely to take initiative when thinking through situations or solving problems. By asking your child open-ended questions about their favorite topic or interest, they are able to come up with their own answers without feeling like they are being told what to do or how to think.
2. Model critical thinking skills yourself.
While children learn best by doing and observing others in action, they also learn by seeing adults think critically and problem solve. As a parent, you can set a good example by thinking through situations yourself before making a decision or commenting on someone else’s decision.
If you’re on the phone with your friend and her three-year-old is running around the house, for example, think about what would be the best way to handle the situation. You might decide to hang up the phone and get your child because you know that your friend will hear her child crying or yelling if you continue talking.
If you find yourself getting angry with another adult over something like this, take a step back and ask yourself what the best way to handle it would be. By taking time to think through how you would handle an uncomfortable situation before it actually happens, you can teach your child that there are many ways to solve problems and that it’s okay to change your mind if something doesn’t work out as planned.
3. Talk about real-life situations in a positive way.
When children are exposed to negative conversations between adults, or they see parents reacting negatively towards others, they may learn to do the same thing themselves in similar situations when they grow up. King says this is one of the biggest reasons why it’s important to model positive behavior when you talk about real-life situations with your child.
For example, if you are upset that your friend didn’t call you back after she promised she would, don’t vent to your child about it. Instead, explain to them that sometimes people say they will do something and then they don’t do it.
Let them know that there are many reasons why this might happen and explain the situation in a positive way so they understand why it happened.
4. Set an example for your child by thinking critically about everyday life.
By showing children how to think critically, they will be able to learn how to apply these skills throughout their lives and develop good critical thinking habits. This is especially important for children who may not have parents or teachers who think critically on a regular basis in their daily lives.
When you notice something that doesn’t make sense, take time to think through the situation and come up with alternative explanations for what might have happened or what could happen next. By talking through problems with your child instead of immediately coming up with a solution, you can help them develop a habit of critical thinking and problem solving.
5. Encourage your child to be a good friend.
Children who are kind, helpful, and respectful to others are more likely to develop good critical thinking skills. This is because they have the opportunity to practice being a good friend by thinking about how their actions will affect others.
When you see your child being nice to someone else, talk with them about what they did and why it was important for them to do it. You can even encourage them to think about ways they could have been a better friend in that situation or ways they could help their friend in the future if something similar happens again.