Human beings are capable of thinking for themselves. Unless we are taught otherwise, we are capable of solving problems on our own.
Children make observations and begin to test reality; they use their senses to observe the world and make sense of it. Asking questions, supporting the process, and letting the child grow at his or her own pace can support a child’s thinking.
Children to Think
Adults often don’t allow children to think for themselves. We want our children to think, feel, and believe as we do. When their thinking differs from ours, we feel threatened. When they believe something different from us, we often feel scared and powerless.
Maybe we want to feel superior. Many of us believe that we know better and that we need to tell children how it is instead of letting them discover for themselves. We believe that as parents we know best and sometimes see our value and importance in guiding children.
“Father knows best,” however, is not necessarily true. And it does not provide an opportunity for independent thinking or self-reliance. When people have the opportunity to think through situations and try out their own ideas, learning is more meaningful and sustainable. When children have the opportunity to think for themselves, they are more likely to develop a self.
We all perceive through our own glasses, and most of the time our glasses are clouded by old, subjective experiences. We are likely to miss new information. And we forget to change context and put ourselves in different scenarios. As parents, we may not stay open to new possibilities, but stick to old, familiar patterns of response.
When we find our children’s independent thinking threatening, we often tell them they are too young to know, too inexperienced, or uninformed. Children are rarely presented with information and options, but rather a right way and a wrong way. Rarely do we give young people the responsibility or the right to form their own beliefs.
When children begin to perceive the world independently, we often discourage them from trusting their observations and the logical conclusions they come to.
We need to encourage our children’s independent thinking if we want them to become good problem solvers. Rather than letting them become victims, we will empower them to be proactive.
Children learn how to make sense of the world when they are allowed to think for themselves. They feel capable and their self-esteem grows. When children are allowed to think, they do not feel stuck or confused. As a result, they trust themselves and are not intimidated into believing something for the sake of getting approval from others.
Parenting and helping adults can avoid the primary blocks to a child’s independent thinking by incorporating two main principles: discounting and rescuing.
The discounting process
Learning not to discount our children’s thinking capability will open the door to their autonomy. The existence of many possible solutions to every problem, the importance of allowing independent, divergent thoughts, and the role of creativity in thinking out solutions must not be overlooked. To discount is to deny.
When we do not engage in rescuing behavior toward our children, we ensure that they develop the self-confidence and skills they need to think for themselves and act in their own best interest. When we rescue children by doing things for them that they can do for themselves, such as thinking, we send the message that we do not believe they are capable of doing it. They lose practice opportunities and do not develop the skills and self-esteem they need to make decisions and solve problems.
When we belittle and save young people, we rob them of the opportunity to practice, grow, and learn from personal experiences. When we belittle others, they perceive our lack of confidence in them.
Allowing children (and others!) to think for themselves is the greatest gift we can give them and one of the greatest contributions we can make to society at large. To do this, we must let go of our own fears and self-doubt. We must let go of notions of superiority and inferiority.
It takes courage to admit error and OK to deal with the uncertainty required to make independent thought possible. There is no guarantee that our children will think, feel, or behave as we do-or as we expect them to. Within this framework, we allow people to develop and become who they are: fully independent beings with the freedom to think for themselves and live the way they want. Independent thinking allows our children to develop into autonomous, spontaneous people who live authentically and as equals with us.