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Raising an Independent Thinker

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Updated on Jul 17, 2009

Let’s face it: no matter how much parents complain, they love to be needed by their children. So, it’s only natural for a child’s growing independence to be a hard pill to swallow for parents.

But fostering independent thinking skills in your child is an important task for parents, says Ellen Booth Church, an educational consultant, author, and former professor of early childhood. “You can support their process by inviting them to ‘imagine’ another idea or way to do something. This allows them to move into the realm of creative thinking and lets them take a ‘risk’ without fear of being different or wrong,” she says.

If you think that schools are the best places for kids to learn how to be independent thinkers, think again, says Debbie Mancini-Wilson, a children’s rights activist and author of the children’s poetry book Color My World. “I believe that the current 'teach to test' system which most schools follow is setting our children up for failure.One of the biggest problems that I see around the country is that students are being sat upon; they must check their creativity at the classroom door. Independent thinking and innovation, which have been key ingredients throughout our country's history, are becoming just that... history.”

Because of this, parents must help to fill in the gap. “We can look for ways to nurture their individual learning styles and independent thinking skills at home,” she adds. And there are lots of fun ways you can do that. Here’s what the experts suggest:

Talk

First of all, encourage your child to talk in descriptive terms. Mancini-Wilson suggests picking an everyday activity – such as running, jumping, doing a somersault or cartwheel – and have your child explain to you how she feels while doing that activity. Or you can pick a color, and ask your child to describe what she thinks about when she sees that color.

Other ideas: ask your child to describe her ideal vacation spot, talk about what one of her toys is thinking, or tell you what they like about their best friend.

Listen

Next, engage your child’s listening skills, and teach him how to pay attention to what others are saying before sharing his own thoughts on the matter.

“It is important to expose children to diverse ideas and approaches to life and living. For example, it is wonderful for a young child to listen to and participate in open family discussions where many different viewpoints and opinions are both encouraged and respected,” Booth Church says.

Think

It’s often tempting to jump in and show our children how to do something “right”, but that doesn’t help them learn to do things, or to think for themselves.

“Encourage children to try and solve their own problems instead of doing it for them. And when they do... be sure to ‘label’ what they are doing by saying, ‘You are thinking!’ This will help children recognize the value of thinking for themselves,” says Booth Church.

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