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August 19, 2005
Teaching Children to Think

Sometimes I think we as adults need to spend more quality time with our children consciously teaching them explicitly those critical life skills that we assume they get somehow by just growing up. The problems and issues that prevent us from doing this can be many, and perhaps setting aside the time is at the top of the list. But I want to share with parents over the next several weeks some simple tips that are easy to use--tips that you will hopefully find helpful with your children.

Today's tip focuses on helping your child think. If you have ever stopped to think about it, thinking and language (using reading and writing with words, numbers, musical notation, etc.) go hand in hand because they are closely intertwined. If you want your child to be seen as intelligent and competent, your child must think and communicate with clarity and precision.

I must admit that in the deep south, where I grew up, we are masters at generality and ambiguity. And perhaps the most vague and general among us are adolescents! I'll give you a brief but conclusive example. Presented in the next paragraph is a complete thought, from beginning to end, deeply and meaningfully articulated by one of our 7th graders this week. I overheard him myself. This complex ideation demands a complete line all to itself to help explicate the subtle nuances of meaning found in the subject, verb, and objects in each of the intricately constructed clauses and phrases.


Parents, you know exactly what I am talking about. Now, the child who spoke this did in fact communicate a great deal in that one word. His statement was so profound and sophisticated that no one would argue he was wrong. In fact, everyone around him agreed! But what did they mean when they all ponderously nodded their heads in affirmation?

Simple strategy: question your child for clarity and precision. Doing so will force greater depth in thinking and expression. Be alert to vagueness and help your child become more specific by asking clarifying questions. This simple strategy will not just enhance meaningful conversation between you and your child, but will force your child to think more deeply, to re-think what he or she wants to say but didn't, to find a better way to express him or herself.

Here are a few examples:

By using this one simple strategy, your child's language (which is a reflection of his or her thinking or lack thereof) will become more precise. In time your child will begin to use more descriptive words to clarify what he or she really wants to communicate to you but didn't think through carefully enough to actually accomplish. Your child will begin to use more labels, more carefully chosen vocabulary, correct names, criteria for their value judgments, and supporting evidence for what they are thinking.

By helping your child elaborate and provide meaningful comparisons (similarities or contrasts), you are forcing their little brains to create more neural connections that will, in time, become patterns for thought and explication. You will actually help develop your child's brain! This strategy is just too simple and too powerful to not use regularly!!

Posted by Dr. Tyson

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