What’s the best thing you can do to help your child think better?

brighter minds better futures critical thinking Jan 19, 2024

Of course, it's every parent's aspiration to see their children excel academically and lead a life that's not only productive but also emotionally fulfilling. In this journey of nurturing young minds, one of the most pertinent and recurrent queries I encounter from parents revolves around enhancing their children's critical thinking abilities. The question often comes from a place of genuine concern and eagerness to equip their offspring with the best tools for success – both in the classroom and beyond.

As parents, we understand that the landscape of education and personal development is ever-evolving. In a world inundated with information and various challenges, fostering strong critical thinking skills in children is no longer just an option but a necessity. It's about preparing them not only to excel in their academic pursuits but also to navigate life's complexities with resilience and intelligence. Parents are keenly aware that the ability to analyze, evaluate, and create new ideas is paramount in ensuring their children's future is not only successful but also adaptable and innovative.

The essence of this inquiry is rooted in the desire to see children grow into independent thinkers, capable of making sound decisions and solving problems effectively. It's about empowering them with the ability to discern fact from fiction in an age where misinformation is rampant. Parents are looking for ways to nurture a sense of curiosity, encourage open-mindedness, and develop the ability to reason logically and empathetically.

In a moment, I’ll offer an answer that delves into practical strategies and insights. This response is aimed at not just addressing the surface-level aspects of critical thinking but also exploring the deeper, more nuanced elements of intellectual development. It's about providing a holistic approach that transcends traditional teaching methods and taps into the potential of each child to think critically and creatively in all aspects of their life. Stay tuned for a comprehensive guide to nurturing the critical thinkers of tomorrow, tailored for parents who are deeply invested in their children's all-around development.

Higher Order Thinking Skills

But first, as much as I appreciate the question and the motivation behind it, there’s unfortunately no one magic parenting practice to help children learn to think critically.  At its core, critical thinking is not only a series of learned skills but more fundamentally about learning to be self-aware of and gain control over cognitive function.  In other words, authentic critical thinking skills, and what are referred to as Higher-Order Thinking skills, aren’t best learned just through thinking exercises, but from recognizing and controlling how the brain operates when it engages in thinking.

That’s why Brighter Minds, Better Futures, The Critical Thinking Institute’s program for kids, teaches them how to recognize what their brain does when it thinks and how to harness its natural functions for exceptional critical thinking in everything they do—school, life decisions, social interactions, etc.  That might sound like it would be difficult for kids.  But if they can learn how to control their bodies in other ways, such as how to ride a bike or throw a ball, then there’s no reason they cannot learn how to control aspects of their brain function.  Put another way, if we can teach kids how to read, write, and do math, we also can teach them how to think.

Why Haven’t I Heard About This Yet?

If you’re wondering why you didn’t learn about your brain function when you were younger, it’s not only because The Critical Thinking Institute didn’t exist yet, it’s because the neuroscience of what the brain does when it thinks has only emerged in recent years. Thanks to MRIs and other technologies, we’ve finally been able to observe the brain during different acts of cognition and emotion, and have been able to map what it does, why it does it, and how to control it.

One Small Solution

One of the most powerful things you can do with your children to help them think better is have them start a Think-Journal.  Like a regular journal or diary, a Think-Journal is where your kids write down one decision, problem, or solution they worked through that day, and explain in detail what went through their head - the thinking process through which their brain went.  

Here are some simple questions to get a Think-Journal started:

  • What was the issue (problem/solution/decision you had to address)?
  • What was your initial thinking about the issue?  How did your initial thinking evolve/change as you thought about it? 
  • What did your brain value when thinking about the issue?  What was important to consider?  Why was it important?  What wasn’t important to consider?  Why wasn’t it important?
  • What is at least one thing, such as a piece of evidence or the quality of an idea, that your brain weighed against another piece of evidence, idea, thought, etc. as you thought about the issue?  Why did one weigh more or less than another?
  • What did you end up doing?
  • Looking back, what’s one thing you wish your brain focused on at least a little more than it did?  What’s one thing you wish your brain focused on less?
  • One a scale of 1-10, with 10 being most successful, rate how well your brain engaged in thinking and why.  (For this answer, you’re not allowed to rate your brain at a 1 because your brain did do at least some thinking, and you’re not allowed to rate yourself a 10 because your brain always could have done more thinking.)
  • How could you improve your thinking next time?

There’s no need to tackle those questions in order.  Depending on the issue at hand, it’s perfectly okay to focus on some questions more than others, and it’s also great to add some of your own questions, if you think of them!  

Here’s an abbreviated example:

(The issue) Today, my friend Bill lied about me on social media.  He said that I called Lisa “stupid.”  (Initial reaction) I had to decide how to respond, and my initial reaction was to jump on social media myself and call Bill a liar, because that’s not at all what I said.  So, at first, my brain cared most about defending myself and getting revenge on Bill.  That was so important to my brain because I wasn’t going to be disrespected.  More importantly, if I let Bill get away with this lie, he’d just end up lying about me more, and lie about my friends too.  But what was most important to me was that I didn’t want Lisa to think that I called her stupid, because I’d never do that to her.  I didn’t want to lose her friendship. (Weighing one thing against another)  In figuring out what to do, my brain weighed calling Bill a liar against another possibility, just explaining what I really said.  So, I could either post angry things about Bill, or I could just explain my side of the story.  When my brain really sorted things out, I realized that it was more important that everyone just knew that I didn’t say that, and less important that I got into a fight with Bill by calling him a liar. (What was the result?) In the end, I posted this: “Bill got this wrong.  I would never say that about Lisa.  What I said to him was that it was “stupid” that she’s called on all the time because she always knows the answer.” (What should the brain have considered more). Looking back, I wish my brain didn’t react as fast as it did.  If I slowed down and thought about it a little more, I could have considered that Bill easily could have misinterpreted what I said, and that even though he shouldn’t have posted about it, he might really believe I said it.  What I said was that the fact that the teacher called Lisa in class so much was “stupid.”  I thought it was stupid that the teacher called on her so much because she always knows the answer, so the teacher should call on people who don’t always know the answer.  But I guess Bill might have misheard me and thought I called Lisa “stupid,” not the fact that the teacher called on her all the time.  I also wish my brain focused less on getting revenge on Bill.  What he did was wrong but I shouldn’t just want to fight with him, afterall he is my friend.  (1-10) On a scale of 1-10, I would rate myself at a 6.  I’m glad my brain didn’t just call Bill names, but I wish it took more time to think about the whole situation instead of just reacting. (What did you learn for next time) Next time, I definitely hope my brain slows down a little bit.  I’m glad I didn’t call Bill out, but my brain could have thought a lot more about how he might have misunderstood my point.  I wish I said, “I know Bill is looking out for Lisa, and I can understand why he misinterpreted what I said.”  I also wish I texted Bill and Lisa directly to explain the mixup, and to ask Bill why he had to do that.  I wish I did that because I’m still mad at him and I could have handled it better.  So, next time, I want to slow my brain down more, think more, and react less

Of course, that’s just one example, but it shows how your kids can start becoming much more aware of their thinking, including when they thought well and when they could have thought better.  It shows how they can start to become self-aware of, and take control over, their brains.     


What the Think-Journal does that’s so important is develop metacognition, which is, in the words of Richard Paul, “the ability to think about your thinking while you’re thinking it.”  More precisely, it is the ability to self-monitor your own thinking process, to be self-aware of and conscious about what you’re thinking and how you’re thinking.  It’s important because, 

When engaging in critical thinking, [people] need to undergo specific metacognitive skills like monitoring their thinking process, checking whether progress is being made toward an appropriate goal, ensuring accuracy, and making decisions about the use of time and mental effort. 

In fact, some researchers argue that critical thinking is virtually impossible without metacognition playing a significant role. 

Thus, metacognition is one of the primary traits of strong critical thinkers. By helping people to see their own thinking process, it empowers them to regulate, modify, and improve that process over time.  It’s a central emphasis of our Brighter Minds, Better Futures program, and while it’s not even close to everything one needs to think more critically, it is, without question, a very powerful tool, and one that’s easy to begin practicing.

Again, there’s no one magic technique for turning kids into great critical thinkers, and there are other tips that I could recommend, but the Think-Journal is a great place to start.  Brighter Minds, Better Futures gives kids lots of very specific tools for recognizing what their brains do and taking control of it for better thinking.  

As a bonus tip: Journals are best kept on pen and paper rather than on a computer.  There’s abundant research that writing by hand and on paper is a different experience than typing on a screen, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Ready to Empower Your Child's Thinking?

Dive into our 'Brighter Minds, Better Futures' program and unlock the potential of your child's critical thinking skills. It's more than learning; it's about mastering the art of thinking. Equip them with the tools to differentiate fact from fiction and to excel in both academic and life challenges. Don't let this opportunity slip – your child's journey to becoming a strong, independent thinker starts here. Join us now and be a part of shaping the critical thinkers of tomorrow! Think on!

Questions? Reach out at [email protected].

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