When was the last time your child came running to you, excited about some weird “fact” or story that “must be true” that they read online or saw on YouTube? You, having more life experience, quickly realize that this “big story” is, in fact, a fake. This scenario makes you realize just how important critical thinking skills are in today’s world. Perhaps at no other time in history have critical thinking skills been so necessary for our children and their future endeavors. While there is an abundance of information in our world today, there is an even greater need for the skill of being able to carefully and critically discern the value of this information. Experts have recognized this as well. The World Health Organization has listed critical thinking skills as one of the 5 critical life skills that everyone should master, and these skills begin in childhood. What can we, as parents, do in our interactions with our children to foster this crucial skill?
What is Critical Thinking and Why Does it Matter?
Although critical thinking is often listed among other intellectual skills that we hope to foster in our children, it is a very distinct concept. Different from pure intelligence, critical thinking has less to do with content and more to do with the quality of thought. Many scholars have adopted a definition that puts emphasis on the active process of evaluating information in a disciplined way. The information itself was gathered in a systematic way. The ultimate goal of critical thinking is not just the intellectual process; the goal is to be able to use this evaluated information to inform one’s decisions or beliefs.
Although a person’s knowledge of a particular subject area is important in critical thinking, it’s not simply about being able to recall or recite content. Critical thinking skills are all about evaluation⏤being able to discern the value, relevance, or soundness of the information at hand.
From this, it’s easy to see why critical thinking skills are very necessary and highly valued in our world today. In an atmosphere in which information is abundant, and even overwhelming, the ability to evaluate information in a systematic way is crucial. This ability is not only important in academics and careers, but in personal life as well. Research backs up the value of critical thinking skills. For example, one study of children showed that those who participated in explicit lessons about critical thinking performed better on standardized tests. Studies do seem to indicate that critical thinking skills have to be explicitly taught to children; they don’t seem to just naturally pick them up over the course of development.
Beyond the classroom, critical thinking skills are valuable in one’s personal life as well. Critical thinking, at its core, involves the ability to systematically evaluate and solve problems. This skill, of course, has applications for many areas of life. Experts suggest that individuals with strong critical thinking skills tend to be more creative, can deal with life challenges, and even resist peer pressure. Critical thinking skills also help with solving personal problems and can aid self-reflection, which opens the door to personal growth.
Tips for Fostering Critical Thinking
While there are classroom-based programs to help teach children critical thinking skills, parents can also help foster these skills at home through their typical interactions.
- Foster Self-esteem and Emotional Skills: The foundation of critical thinking comes from children having strong self-esteem and emotional regulation skills. With a strong sense of self, children have the confidence they need to feel that their reasoning and arguments are worthwhile. Without this, children may just blindly adopt the arguments or beliefs of those around them.
Similarly, in order to be able to think critically, children must be able to manage their emotions well. If children are easily frustrated, distracted, or angry, their ability to think critically is undermined.
To best foster these skills, parents can model them in their own lives and interactions with their children. For example, parents can encourage their children to think about hard questions and include them in family discussions (as age-appropriate). This encourages children to think about issues and express their thoughts to adults. Furthermore, parents can model healthy emotional regulation skills by staying calm when upset and teaching children effective coping strategies like breathing or exercising to calm themselves when those inevitable overwhelming emotions arise.
- Encourage Metacognition: Although the term “metacognition” sounds fancy, it just means being able to reflect upon one’s own thoughts. It’s all about thinking about your own thinking process. This skill may not be intuitive to children, but they can be coached on how to do it. Encouraging children to be self-reflective can be helpful in many aspects of life, particularly critical thinking.
- Encourage children to think about why they think certain things. Ask them questions like “how do you know that?” or “where did you learn that?” to prompt discussions about the source of their thinking.
- Encourage children to really reflect on what they read or watch. Ask them questions like, “why do you think this character feels that way?” or “do you think that story is true or made up?”
– Foster Independent Learning: Children are naturally curious and often ask their parents many questions. This is a great way to foster learning. However, taking these skills to the level of critical thinking often involves encouraging the child to uncover the answers to the questions themselves.
- Encourage children’s curiosity by answering their never-ending “why” questions, but also encourage them to discover answers for themselves. This might involve you helping them find a resource, book, or online site that they could research their question.
In today’s world, critical thinking skills are not just “add-on” skills but essential. The more children can learn to evaluate all the varied information that is available, the better skilled they will be in solving complex problems and analyzing situations. Through our conversations and interactions with them, we can help spark not only their critical thinking skills but also their curiosity and love of learning.
Preview Blurb: Do you feel overwhelmed by ALL the information out there in the world–news, online articles, social media, books, movies, etc? Our kids can be overwhelmed by it all too! One solution to information overwhelm is to be able to critically evaluate which information is valuable and which is not. Critical thinking is a valuable life skill that we can help our children develop. Read on to learn how you can foster these skills through simple, ordinary interactions with your children.
The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.