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6 Ways You Can Teach Your Child to Think for Himself
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  • Our love for our kids is unconditional, but it's the same love that can sometimes hold them back. We are often doing way too much for our kids. It prevents them from learning important life skills to navigate their way through life's challenges, whether as a child or as a grown-up. Our job is to provide for their every need, and that includes teaching our kids how to think for themselves.

    In her bestseller book How to Raise An Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims, who has spoken and written widely about helicopter parenting, writes, "We don't want out kids to be robots -- mechanistically giving answers or going through motions dictated by someone else. We want them to be thinkers."

    What can we do about it? Here are six ways. 

    1. Converse with your kids and start early.
    Our kids are like sponges. Just look at how they learn language -- they begin by simply listening to us. But once toddlers can carry on a bit of conversation, ask them open-ended questions that will let them do the talking. "Employ a continual questioning approach, which boils down to you, the parents, being always interested in the what, how, or why underneath whatever your child has just said. This method will work regardless of your kids' age, though the subject matter will change and grow more complex as the child matures and becomes more intellectually sophisticated," says Lythcott-Haims.

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    2. Let your kids think and not just do. 
    Push activities that requires your child to figure things out for themselves -- instead of just having them go through the motions of doing tasks mechanically. Let them have new experiences and give them a chance to choose between, say, a blue and yellow shirt or a red and white one. Making decisions for themselves and adapting to the consequences will play a big factor in how they choose or decide in the future. Lythcott-Haims explains, "Children who have figured out a problem, concept, or idea for themselves can talk about the why and the how of the matter rather than the mere fact of its existence, and can apply what they've learned to new situations."


    3. Develop a "growth mindset" in your kids.
    Stanford psychology professor Dr. Carol Dweck, who is also the same person who coined the term explains it as a person who can respond to failure or setback, or criticism and use it to improve oneself. "A child learns that their effort is what led to their success and if they continue to try, over time, they'll improve and achieve more things... [It's] all about being motivated to persist at figuring things out, and it leads to better critical thinking," adds Lythcott-Haims. Put premium on their efforts and let them know that it matters more than the end result.

    4. Encourage them to take risks.
    Not life-threatening risks, but risks that challenge their thought process, which can then open up new avenues for them to explore. Stanford University professor and director of the architectural design program Dr. John Barton says to his students, "Process and reflection are [more important]. I expect [my students] to break the rules and to climb up to the highest branch and saw it off behind them." Most students have a difficulty wrapping their heads around the open-ended and uncertain and would just rather continue in the manner to which they had grown accustomed. Keeping kids in a comfort zone for far too long will only make adapting to changes more challenging.

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    5. Teach them to think more than just about themselves. 
    Elementary kids will have their own opinions on what they see on TV, especially now that they not only see the news on TV but also on their social media pages, if they already have them. Lythcott-Haims suggest you engage your child on topics outside themselves whenever you can or over family dinners. Come up with any current events topic, and then ask them what they think about it. Play the opposite side of their stance, and encourage your child to respond to your point of view. For older kids, you can also switch sides.

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    6. Let them speak up for themselves. 
    Another good practice is to let you child answer for himself when someone else directly addresses him. You can coach or practice him beforehand, since your child needs to have conversational skills. Decide which topics you should intervene and stick to it. Resist the urge to answer a question for your kid. Letting your child speak first empowers them, says Lythcott-Haims. It tells them you value their opinion and them as a person. But, yes, you can add your thoughts to support what they said and only when it’s necessary. 

    Parenting is difficult and challenging, yes, but we learn as we go along that letting go as our kids grow up makes it even harder. "One of the key life skills our children must develop is the ability to live without us," reminds Lythcott-Haims. After all, they are the future of the world. 

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