Today is: 
18 April 2019 

Raising Thinkers Not Thoughts


issue 26 -March/April 2015
How successful our next generations will be depends on how we train and impart them with knowledge. Batool Haydar provides some guidelines that should help parents to raise individuals who think for themselves

“Teaching how to acquire knowledge is an important responsibility, but what is more important is teaching children and teenagers how to think.” – Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khameini.

Information is power. This has been the catch-phrase of the past couple of decades. We have been encouraged to gather as much knowledge as possible and ensure the next generation do the same. The more you know, the more you can do, the more you can control. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. In reality, information is simply data. Without the ability to use it or deduce new ideas from it, it becomes trivia that we collect to pull out of our pockets for the purpose of impressing others, much like a party trick. However, progress and growth requires a different approach to knowledge. In order to ensure that the things we learn will have an impact on our lives, our characters and on our futures, we need to ensure that we know how to think for ourselves; that we can analyse and assess the reliability of the information we receive from the many sources around us. This is an essential skill that we also have to pass on to our children if we want them to survive in the world and maintain their character and belief. One of the best ways to do this is to start early! By encouraging our children to think for themselves from a young age, we give them a gift that will help them through their entire lives. Encouraging Independent Thought Starting off a child on the path of independent thinking can be a scary experience; however, as the child begins to make decisions and connections, watching them grow and come into their own is a reward that only a parent can truly appreciate. The following habits can help trigger innovative thought-processes in your child: 1. Lead by Example It is well known that your own behaviour is the best example for your children to follow. By verbalising and explaining your reasoning behind the simple daily decisions you make, you can remove the ‘mystery’ that many a child accepts as part of adult behaviour. On the flipside, you could ask your child questions about what they think and how they would handle a situation. 2. Encourage Free Play One of the most consistent pieces of advice when it comes to nurturing creativity, inventiveness and thinking is to allow and encourage free play in children. Free play involves simply removing structure from play time. Allow children to come up with their own games, to daydream and explore in their own manner without specific instructions. 3. Allow Experience to Teach Don’t think for your children. Give them small choices and then accept and trust their decisions. Allow them to make mistakes without judging them. When things go wrong, talk about what happened, ask them why they think it happened and what they would consider doing differently next time around. In this way, you let experience and trial-and-error guide them. Don’t try and protect them from the consequences of their actions or decisions. 4. Nurture Curiosity We often expect children to be silent and obedient observers of life. In many cultures, questioning is considered rude. However, if you don’t allow curiosity and the natural inclination to ask in a child, you will stunt their exploratory instincts. Give your child the confidence to ask questions - politely and within context. Let them take the initiative and follow through without interfering or trying to ‘help’ them get it ‘right’. Discouraging Dependency A lot of our current parenting habits are actually detrimental to the growth of children. We try too hard to teach them skills and feed them information that we think they will need or will keep them ahead in the ‘rat race’. Often, out of misplaced love, we step in to save them and make things better, easier, smoother, swooping in with solutions - sometimes at simply the intimation of a problem! If you find yourself doing any of the following, it may be time to step back and re-visit your upbringing strategy... 1. Hovering Don’t watch over your child’s shoulder all the time. Give them room to do their own thing, to make mistakes, to get hurt and then to pick themselves up and try again. If what they do has less than perfect results, it’s fine! They’re learning through the process, not in the result. By admiring and complimenting the effort, you also remove the pressure of comparison to others. 2. Relying on Passive Entertainment It’s so easy to get carried away with chores and duties and leave our children with the television, iPod, iPad, Playstation or any other device that will keep them entertained. Studies have shown that even the so-called ‘educational’ programmes and games will never compare to actual active involvement in activities. If you work or don’t have the time to do things at home with your child, sign them up for activity clubs or give them creative mediums to play with such as jigsaws, 3-D puzzle sets and brain teasers. For older children, a cheap camera or camcorder could be the beginning of a career in film, or craft activities could open the door to creative expression. 3. Solving the ‘Boredom’ Issue When our children complain that they’re bored, we usually try and provide them with a list of things they can do. On the other hand, our parents used to react to the same complaint with a refrain of ‘children don’t get bored’. A balance between the two would be to challenge your child to come up with ideas on their own. This may be difficult at first if your child has been used to ‘not thinking’ but with a bit of encouragement and consistency, they will soon thrive on activities of their own invention. 4. The Unexplained ‘No’ How often do you find yourself saying something along the lines of ‘Because I said so!’ or ‘I’m the parent and I make the decisions!’ Children have the ability to reason and understand, albeit at a simpler level than us. By asking us for things, they are seeking answers as well as hoping to discover how we reach the conclusions we do. So when a child presents an unreasonable request, keep in mind that to the child there is logic behind the query. It is only lack of information and experience that prevents them from knowing what you do. In such cases, try and get the child to figure out why you are refusing by discussing the issue with them. Yes, they must understand that as a parent, your decision is paramount, but they also must trust that your choices are made in their best interests and not on a personal whim or with the intention of disappointing them. Sowing And Reaping Implementing a new way of interacting with children is a difficult process for some. We see children as ...well, children. In actual fact though, they are all adults-in-training. Every day of their childhood is a classroom in which they are gathering the skills they will need to live the rest of their lives as constructive adults. If we manage to shift our perspective from being figures of authority who dictate the lives of our children because we know better, to being mentors and guides who are sharing what we have learned through the years and who are willing in turn to learn from our children, we may experience a parent-child relationship deeper and more satisfying than we ever imagined possible. •
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