How to Teach Your Child to Be a Critical Thinker

Young girl thinking

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Every day kids are bombarded with messages, information, and images. Whether they are at school, online, or talking to their friends, they need to know how to evaluate what they are hearing and seeing in order to form their own opinions and beliefs. Critical thinking skills are the foundation of education as well as an important life skill. Without the ability to think critically, kids will struggle academically, especially as they get older.

In fact, no matter what your child plans to do professionally someday, they will need to know how to think critically, solve problems, and make decisions. As a parent, it's important that you ensure that your kids can think for themselves and have developed a healthy critical mindset before they leave the nest.

Doing so will help them succeed both academically and professionally as well as benefit their future relationships. Here is what you need to know about critical thinking, including how to teach your kids to be critical thinkers.

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking skills are the ability to imagine, analyze, and evaluate information in order to determine its integrity and validity, such as what is factual and what isn't. These skills help people form opinions and ideas as well as help them know who is being a good friend and who isn't.

"Critical thinking also can involve taking a complex problem and developing clear solutions," says Amy Morin, LCSW, a psychotherapist and author of the best-selling books "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do" and "13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do."

In fact, critical thinking is an essential part of problem-solving, decision-making, and goal-setting. It also is the basis of education, especially when combined with reading comprehension. These two skills together allow kids to master information.

Why Critical Thinking Skills Are Important

According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which evaluated 15-year-old children in 44 different countries, more than one in six students in the United States are unable to solve critical thinking problems. What's more, research indicates that kids who lack critical thinking skills face a higher risk of behavioral problems.

If kids are not being critical thinkers, then they are not thinking carefully, says Amanda Pickerill, Ph.D. Pickerill is licensed with the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Board of Psychology and is in practice at the Ohio State School for the Blind in Columbus, Ohio.

"Not thinking carefully [and critically] can lead to information being misconstrued; [and] misconstrued information can lead to problems in school, work, and relationships," she says.

Critical thinking also allows kids to gain a deeper understanding of the world including how they see themselves in that world. Additionally, kids who learn to think critically tend to be observant and open-minded.

Amy Morin, LCSW

Critical thinking skills can help someone better understand themselves, other people, and the world around them. [They] can assist in everyday problem-solving, creativity, and productivity.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

Benefits of Critical Thinking Skills

There are many ways critical thinking skills can benefit your child, Dr. Pickerill says. From being able to solve complex problems in school and determining how they feel about particular issues to building relationships and dealing with peer pressure, critical thinking skills equip your child to deal with life's challenges and obstacles.

"Critical thinking skills [are beneficial] in solving a math problem, in comparing and contrasting [things], and when forming an argument," Dr. Pickerill says. "As a psychologist, I find critical thinking skills also to be helpful in self-reflection. When an individual is struggling to reach a personal goal or to maintain a satisfactory relationship it is very helpful to apply critical thinking."

Critical thinking also fosters independence, enhances creativity, and encourages curiosity. Kids who are taught to use critical thinking skills ask a lot of questions and never just take things at face value—they want to know the "why" behind things.

"Good critical thinking skills also can lead to better relationships, reduced distress, and improved life satisfaction," says Morin. "Someone who can solve everyday problems is likely to feel more confident in their ability to handle whatever challenges life throws their way."

How to Teach Kids to Be Critical Thinkers

Teaching kids to think critically is an important part of parenting. In fact, when we teach kids to be critical thinkers, we are also teaching them to be independent. They learn to form their own opinions and come to their own conclusions without a lot of outside influence. Here are some ways that you can teach your kids to become critical thinkers.

Be a Good Role Model

Sometimes the best way to teach your kids an important life skill is to model it in your own life. After all, kids tend to copy the behaviors they see in their parents. Be sure you are modeling critical thinking in your own life by researching things that sound untrue and challenging statements that seem unethical or unfair.

"Parents, being the critical thinkers that they are, can begin modeling critical thinking from day one by verbalizing their thinking skills," Dr. Pickerill says. "It’s great for children to hear how parents critically think things through. This modeling of critical thinking allows children to observe their parents' thought processes and that modeling lends itself to the child imitating what [they have] observed."

Play With Them

Children are constantly learning by trial and error and play is a great trial and error activity, says Dr, Pickerill. In fact, regularly playing with your child at a very young age is setting the foundation for critical thinking and the depth of their critical thinking skills will advance as they develop, she says.

"You will find your child’s thinking will be more on a concrete level in the earlier years and as they advance in age it will become more abstract," Dr. Pickerill says. "Peer play is also helpful in developing critical thinking skills but parents need to be available to assist when conflicts arise or when bantering takes a turn for the worse."

As your kids get older, you can play board games together or simply spend time talking about something of interest to them. The key is that you are spending quality time together that allows you the opportunity to discuss things on a deeper level and to examine issues critically.

Teach Them to Solve Problems

Morin says one way to teach kids to think critically is to teach them how to solve problems. For instance, ask them to brainstorm at least five different ways to solve a particular problem, she says.

"You might challenge them to move an object from one side of the room to the other without using their hands," she says. "At first, they might think it’s impossible. But with a little support from you, they might see there are dozens of solutions (like using their feet or putting on gloves). Help them brainstorm a variety of solutions to the same problem and then pick one to see if it works."

Over time, you can help your kids see that there are many ways to view and solve the same problem, Morin says.

Encourage Them to Ask Questions

As exhausting as it can be at times to answer a constant barrage of questions, it's important that you encourage your child to question things. Asking questions is the basis of critical thinking and the time you invest in answering your child's questions—or finding the answers together— will pay off in the end.

Your child will learn not only learn how to articulate themselves, but they also will get better and better at identifying untrue or misleading information or statements from others. You also can model this type of questioning behavior by allowing your child to see you question things as well.

Practice Making Choices

Like everything in life, your child will often learn through trial and error. And, part of learning to be a critical thinker involves making decisions. One way that you can get your child thinking about and making choices is to give them a say in how they want to spend their time.

Allow them to say no thank-you to playdates or party invitations if they want. You also can give them an allowance and allow them to make some choices about what to do with the money. Either of these scenarios requires your child to think critically about their choices and the potential consequences before they make a decision.

As they get older, talk to them about how to deal with issues like bullying and peer pressure. And coach them on how to make healthy choices regarding social media use. All of these situations require critical thinking on your child's part.

Encourage Open-Mindedness

Although teaching open-mindedness can be a challenging concept to teach at times, it is an important one. Part of becoming a critical thinker is the ability to be objective and evaluate ideas without bias.

Teach your kids that in order to look at things with an open mind, they need leave their own judgments and assumptions aside. Some concepts you should be talking about that encourage open-mindedness include diversity, inclusiveness, and fairness.

A Word From Verywell

Developing a critical mindset is one of the most important life skills you can impart to your kids. In fact, in today's information-saturated world, they need these skills in order to thrive and survive. These skills will help them make better decisions, form healthy relationships, and determine what they value and believe.

Plus, when you teach your kids to critically examine the world around them, you are giving them an advantage that will serve them for years to come—one that will benefit them academically, professionally, and relationally. In the end, they will not only be able to think for themselves, but they also will become more capable adults someday.

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2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA): Results from PISA 2012 problem-solving.

  2. Sun RC, Hui EK. Cognitive competence as a positive youth development construct: a conceptual reviewScientificWorldJournal. 2012;2012:210953. doi:10.1100/2012/210953

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