Many critics of America’s school system point out that educators’ role isn’t to have children memorize facts and figures by rote. Instead, teachers should cultivate independent thinking skills in kids to help them figure things out for themselves.
If society wants humankind to continue moving forward, it needs innovative minds, not merely those that blindly follow what others have already done. Here’s why it’s important to encourage independent thinking in our children and tips for doing so.
1. It Strengthens Abstract Thinking Skills
Everywhere you turn, you are immersed in a world of symbols. You know that a six-figured red sign means you should come to a stop even if you can’t read the word. You understand that a circle with a line through it means that you can’t do the activity represented.
This form of learning is unconscious and begins the day you were born. It’s one reason that language learning occurs best before age 10 when changes in the brain make it trickier to grasp grammatical concepts like native speakers do.
When your child goes to school, their teacher begins reinforcing the lessons they have already learned from their environment. They master concepts like the letter A represents a certain set of vowel sounds, or the number six means a group of that many objects.
You can reinforce abstract thinking skills like these when you take your children to the park. A rope swing can become a way to traverse a river filled with hungry crocodiles. A sliding board becomes Mount Everest with your kiddo as the lucky Sherpa guide.
2. It Improves Their Sense of Agency
One of the saddest human tragedies is how many dreams never get realized. Often, it isn’t a matter of inability that holds people back — it’s their perception that they can’t do something that inhibits them from taking the necessary steps to reach success.
It’s like the old saying goes — whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re correct. Encouraging independent thinking in your children helps them develop a sense of agency, believing that they do have the power to exert positive influence over their worlds.
You can encourage independent thinking by blessing their creative or entrepreneurial ideas and helping them develop safety workarounds instead of banning activities. If they want to build a lemonade stand, but you worry about them talking to strangers unsupervised, can you let them ply their wares while you do yard work nearby? You’ll foster positive growth while keeping them safe.
3. It Frees Them to Educate Themselves
One of the most overwhelming challenges of online learning is reaching those students who require extra support with their educational endeavors. Encouraging independent thinking in your children helps them take ownership of their learning experience and achieve more success during self-directed work time.
You can encourage independent thinking regardless of whether you are still homeschooling your children. Researchers from Johns Hopkins showed that when children learn things through inference, they retain the information more than when they receive it through direct instruction.
Instead of telling your child the name for a new concept or item, ask them how it relates to something they already know. For example, if your toddler finds a golf ball lying around and curiously holds it up for you to inspect, instead of saying, “oh, you found a golf ball,” say, “what do you have there? Does it look like anything else you play with already?”
4. It Keeps Them Out of Toxic Relationships
As an adult, you probably know that not everyone in the world is kind, and you want to protect your children from the unsavory ones. Encouraging independent thinking in your little one, especially your female kiddos, could save them from toxic relationship patterns in the future.
For example, people with narcissistic personality patterns often use techniques like love-bombing and devaluation coupled with gaslighting to keep their victims trapped in unhealthy relationships. They build the other person up by showering them with compliments and gifts, then begin verbally cutting them, often for the same behavior they used to praise.
Now that the other person feels off-center, they use gaslighting to mess with their sense of reality and make them question their perceptions. This pattern, unfortunately, leads far too many to stay trapped in unhealthy, even dangerously abusive relationships as adults. Only someone with strong independent thinking skills can see through the masterfully designed charade and value their sense of self highly enough to break free.
5. It May Keep History From Repeating Itself
How many wars have humans waged? While even historians may not have an exact figure, it sadly hasn’t been enough yet for humanity to get the collective memo that killing each other over abstract ideas is an inhumane and inefficient way to bring about progress.
Without delving too deeply into philosophy, suffice it to say that the only way to stop the unwise actions of human beings is through the more well-thought-out reactions of others. Encouraging independent thinking skills in your kids helps them look at mistakes as learning experiences, not punishments. If they can then extend that lesson out collectively and learn from the errors that others made, humanity as a whole will keep moving forward.
Encouraging Independent Thinking in Our Children Is Vital to Their Future Success and Well-Being
Critics of schools often lament how many educators emphasize memorization while excluding critical thinking skills, and they make valid points. Encouraging independent thinking in our children is vital to their future success and well-being.