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Children can ask many – many – questions; it is a sign of their innate curiosity and is key in developing how they think and their problem solving skills. The classic question of “…. but WHY?” or, “…what are you doing, mummy?” has driven many a parent up the wall. It can be infuriating and, as children get older, children’s questions can make adults feel slightly uncomfortable. They start to analyse everything – and everyone around them. Their questions may be about things we may have once learned – but have long since forgotten, or reveal how very much we take for granted about the world we live in. And of course – sometimes children are asking about subject matter that can make us feel awkward.

However, it is increasingly the case that many parents I talk to are frustrated by their child’s lack of thinking skills. Their child seems uninterested in the world around them, content to follow others rather than think for themselves. Additionally, they are reluctant, or even highly resistant to, thinking in a problem-solving way. Parents report that their children can become clingy or even sulky as they feel challenged or as if they are being “punished” if they are asked questions which require more than a simple yes or no answer.

Like resilience, communication, and many others, the ability to be able to think and reflect is a key life skill. Thinking skills are like a muscle – you need to use them regularly if they are to develop at a higher level. Thinking and reflecting enables us to learn from our mistakes, make connections, and become more adept at making decisions. Thinking also plays a key role in learning to take risks and feeling confident in new situations. Thinking and curiosity go hand in hand in being observant, discovering new possibilities and ideas over the summer holiday, is a perfect time to start.

Here are some tips and techniques to build your child’s thinking skill muscles:

  1. Get rid of wrong or right answers

All too easily, children can become accustomed to knowing that there is a “right” answer – they learn this from many adults, and of-course in a school environments. In-order for their natural curiosity to thrive, children need to feel confident that their answers will be accepted or even embraced – rather than the idea that they are “right or wrong”. If they feel their answers are not suitable, then children stop being curious and so stop asking questions. When this happens, they feel it is safer to be told what to do, rather than take a risk.

  1. Research the answers together

It is OK to say to children you are not sure what the answer is. It’s easy to feel threatened – or even “stupid” when your child is learning something at school and they ask you questions at home, but you’re not sure of the answer. Tell them you’re not sure and why don’t they look it up for you – or research it together. The more they feel safe to ask, the more their thinking develops.

What is key here is that by letting them know you’re not sure about an answer, this is NOT showing them that you’re not clever – and it will not diminish you in their eyes. Moreover, it demonstrates that it’s OK to want to learn new things and that not everyone knows everything all the time. If they do make a comment about it, explain that you learnt this a long time ago and need a re-fresh – also that it’s not knowledge you use every day. We all learn and use knowledge in diverse ways – and that is OK.

  1. Open-ended Questions

Open-ended questions facilitate thinking and usually, although not exclusively start with “What…”

In the car or when you are together, try playing a game. “What colour are you feeling? What makes you happy? What would it be like if you could fly? If you could have a superpower, what would it be?” All these questions are open-ended and they have no right answers.

Your child may be attending a summer school. As well as having lots of fun, a great question to ask at the end of the day is, “What did you learn today?” These types of questions enable our brains to reflect and give reasons for things. Questions like “Why…?” can lead to stories and explanations – and they can put adults and children alike on the defensive.

If there has been an issue at home, try the question, “I see there’s been an upset between you and your brother. What lead up to this?”

  1. Role-play

This is a wonderful way to develop thinking skills. Pretend to be a character in a book – perhaps with a twist. You could be naughty Goldilocks from the fairy tale, or a very angry Baby Bear! Take turn to ask the “What…” questions and be the character. “What did you feel when you saw Goldilocks in your bed, Baby Bear?” Lots of fun to be had!

  1. Patience

It is so easy to be frustrated either by your child when your intentions are only that you want them to be able to think for themselves. It’s a skill and needs time to develop and get stronger. Choose your times carefully so you can play some of the above games when you are feeling calm and curious – you know when an appropriate time for that will be.

And finally – what games do you play to encourage your children to think? Leave a comment below and let me know!