Three Tips to Raising Independently Thinking Children

Portrait of happy young african girl looking at camera, smilingCompany was over. My, then 6-year-old, son wanted yet another snack, cause you know… I have nothing better to spend my money on than snacks, snacks and MORE snacks.

At my direction, he opened the fridge. Examining his options he said, “Ugh. There’s only yogurt and chocolate milk in there and I’ve already had so much protein today.”

Laughing at the consciousness healthy choices and protein intake, my friends asked, “Where’d he get that from?” He continued to deliberate before choosing a non-protein option he had previously overlooked. Equally as amused as my company, I knew it was a direct result of my parenting philosophy.

Early on, despite my knowledge that there were many socializing influences on our children (e.g. school, peers, television), I expected that—for the most part—my  ideologies would reign supreme. However, as my son got older and I started to see that though he did things in my presence that I was there to enforce when I wasn’t there he wouldn’t always continue these behaviors.  As such, I began to see my parental role as that of an empowerment agent.

Parent as Empowerment Agent. This kind of parenting philosophy is consistent with 40-year-old research on parenting styles by Diana Baumrind.  She described four basic parenting styles; authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and neglectful.  Permissive—where children are allowed to do whatever they want—and neglectful parenting styles are no good for children.  Authoritarian parenting—where children are told what to do, expected to comply unquestioningly, and punished for erring—yields children who obey in their parent’s presence, but act a fool without their parents reinforcing presence.  In contrast, authoritative parenting—which my parenting model follows—has some elements of this, where parents have the ultimate veto, but children are allowed and encouraged to reason.

When children reason about their choices and resulting consequences, there is research that suggests they are better able to internalize knowledge and integrate it into their own world-view—as well as they have better developmental outcomes.

As such, I expect that in his teens, should his friends want to get into mischievous behavior, he can stop, consider consequences and alternatives and choose more appropriately. Does this mean he will never err? Of course not, as old as I am, I err, but it does mean that he won’t veer very far from the values we intend to instill.

Three Tips to Raising Independently Thinking Children

1. Avoid speaking in elementary ways to your children. Use big words and concepts, but define them, while using them.

2. See your role as that of an educator.  Use, “because I said so,” only when absolutely necessary. Instead, spend time on explaining and equipping your children with necessary knowledge. For example, “You have $5. If you spend all $5 here, you wont be able to save for larger items you want.” This is better than, “Yes, buy it,” or “No.”

3. Allow your children to practice making decisions while you are there for support.  “So, are you going to buy this toy or save the money?” If he/she chooses to buy now, ask, them what the consequences will be. Use questions like, “What does this mean for the $30 item you wanted?” They will inevitably answer that they can’t get it today, and after a while will begin to consider delaying gratification, as you point out, “The last time you also chose to buy now, instead of saving, and you still don’t have the larger item you want.” Give your child a chance to reason before giving what you conclude is the correct answer.

Leave a comment: Frugalistas, what you are thinking? How important do you think it is to raise children who are independent thinkers?

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