Here are a few family behaviors you may use to help your children learn how to think:

Habit 1:Be a model of continuous learning and thinking.

On my phone’s screen is a photo of my girls. It’s a lovely photo. Someone recently commented, “Wow. Their mother must be stunning.” (She is.) They were probably making fun of me, but there was a point: children will ultimately become like their parents…even if they strive not to.

This idea extends beyond their outward appearance to their cognitive patterns. As a parent, you can model critical thinking for your children. Practice this by conversing and debating with your spouse and children about events in your family, society, and culture. Be mindful of age appropriateness, but if you have high school-aged children, you should be addressing politics, gender and sexuality, money, and relationships. If you aren’t, you should be since the culture is. Allow them to see how deeply you think. Don’t just tell them what they should think.

This might result in both painful and blessed situations. Allow them to question your assumptions. Of course, we want children to be courteous, but even if it is messy, having them think, ask questions, and challenge ideas is preferable to having them be cooperative but cognitively thoughtless.

This can be difficult, especially if you have smaller children because seeing an older brother or sister “speak back” to you might confuse them. When our children were smaller, we often let them leave the table before discussing difficult things. This provides older children the opportunity to share their thoughts. It also emphasizes the need of setting aside time to dine together. The dinner table should not be worshipped, but it should be prioritized because it is frequently where thought and argument occur.

Habit 2: Start Conversations, Not End Them

When your children are young, help them acquire fundamental skills by memory. There is a pattern in Christianity of teaching scripture memorization or catechizing youngsters and new Christians. Catechizing is just a sequence of questions and responses that assist new Christians to comprehend the fundamentals of the religion. With children, this may result in some amusing stories. We once had a small youngster say the Lord’s Prayer to our Minister in the following words:

Our Father, who art in Heaven,

Hallowed be MY name,

MY kingdom come,


Memorization is about teaching children WHAT to think, which is fantastic for young children (just make sure they get their “MYs” and “THYs” straight!). However, too often, parents continue to catechize their children as they grow older. This is what it sounds like:

(From parent to child): So, what are your thoughts on the death penalty?

Child: I believe it should be prohibited.

Parent: No, we think that those who commit murder should be executed.

Child: Oh, OK.

Don’t do it. As a parent attempting to teach your child to think, your duty is not to end the conversation by giving your child the correct answer (or the one you believe), but rather to urge them to address the subject by asking them why they believe what they believe. That discourse is far more fruitful and really aids in the development of a deeper bond between parent and kid. As your child enters their adolescence and teen years, the dialogue may go something like this:

(From parent to child): So, what are your thoughts on the death penalty?

Child: I think it should be banned.

Parent: Why do you think it should be banned?

Child: I believe that the legal system does not adequately safeguard impoverished persons accused of murder, and I am concerned that we may be executing innocent people. I don’t think we’re clever enough to implement this penalty until we can be sure we’re not killing the innocent.

That discussion is going in the right way. Many more questions may and should be raised. It will cause a parent and older kids to think about why they believe what they believe. It will also provide the parent with information on how their youngster thinks.

Habit 3: Broadness in media is required and encouraged.

We are inundated with ideas from the media, books, movies, and television. Of course, parents should restrict and manage the time and material spent in all of these locations (for themselves and their children). In our culture, too many parents fall into the cave-like echo chambers competing for power. Parents wish for their children to share their monolithic mental patterns. None of this encourages critical thinking. Our opponents may teach us to think, but only if we listen to them, consider their arguments, and respond to them properly.

Make certain that your child’s media diet is not monochromatic (again, especially as they get older and move beyond those formative early elementary years). If you have properly helped them create a firm foundation of religion and convictions while they are young, it is time to put that faith to work.

They should make pals who do not share their beliefs. They should read novels that will make them think. They should listen to podcasts and music that broadens their perspectives and interests. They should hear individuals expressing views that are diametrically opposed to what your family values. I advocate for this not because I want them to renounce what you hold dear, but because I want them to be challenged to think in order to hold faithful to what is true, good, and beautiful.

We may like to think of our children as valuable porcelain that has to be carefully wrapped and stored on a high shelf to avoid being chipped or cracked. We cannot keep children secure by covering them in blankets and transporting them away from war. We need to teach kids how to think. In the end, the ability to think—to think clearly and critically about ideas—is a sign of their commitment and fortitude in clinging to what is right.


Article by

Rose .A. Milani,

Parent Coach and Registered Mental Health Counsellor

Based in Melbourne, Australia

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