3 Ways to Raise Kids Who Think for Themselves

When our children are born, we are often idealistic. These little bundles are going to grow up into little miniatures of us. Of course they're going to share our worldview as well as have the same preferences, likes and dislikes. And then comes a moment of truth.

Sometime- usually around toddlerhood- comes the realization that these little people have minds of their own. Despite what we might hope for and imagine, they think for themselves.

Raising kids who think for themselves
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At this point we have a decision to make. We can choose to punish, cajole, or threaten until kids conform and share our opinions or at least change their behavior to seem like they do. Or we can choose to raise kids who think independently.

I want to raise kids who think for themselves. Why?


  • I don't want them to blindly follow anyone. If I train them to blindly follow me with no explanation or teaching about why I think the way I do, they may just as easily follow right along with a peer or adult who is going to lead them astray.
  • I want them to be critical thinkers and able to evaluate what they read, see, and hear, instead of just taking it at face value.
  • I don't want them to just conform their outward behavior because they are trying to appease me If they do, they'll be more likely to act however they wish when they're away from me.
If you want to raise kids who think for themselves, how do you go about it? Here are some ways to help kids think for themselves.

Listen to them.

I will definitely admit that listening to little kid prattle can get old. And I know how frustrating it can feel when your three year old is asking you the same round of questions over and over and over. I also know how your mind seems to glaze over when your elementary-aged kid is waxing eloquent over his favorite new video game. But listening to our kids is incredibly important.

It's easy to succumb to the temptation to say, "Well when he says something important, I'll listen." But I'm telling you, friend, if you don't listen to the "unimportant" they'll never tell you the important. It's the day in and day out listening to the little things that helps to open the paths of communication and ensure that they'll talk to you about the big things.

Listening to kids is incredibly important in helping them to think for themselves. Taking time to listen, to interact, lets kids know that what they're thinking about is important and valuable. When we validate what they're thinking about by taking time to listen, kids are going to know it's important to think for themselves.

Let them question why. 

Before we had any children, Jason and I took a parenting course. I know, I know, we wanted to be over-prepared. This particular parenting course- that I won't name- taught that kids should be made completely compliant to parents' orders. First- time obedience was emphasized. When parents say, "Jump"! kids should say, "How high?" with no questioning, no reservation.

On the surface, this sounded good. Who wouldn't want little robot kids who lined up in a perfect row, standing at attention and waiting to obey their parents' every command? It also sounded biblical. Of course we are supposed to teach our kids to obey. It's in the Bible!

And then we actually had kids. And we realized as they began to grow and develop that they were little people. They had thoughts and emotions and needs and desires. And telling them to obey with no questions asked, no matter how they felt or how they reacted, didn't seem like a good idea at all. It seemed rather cruel sometimes. I looked in the Bible and saw that, yes, the Bible says kids need to obey. But God, as a model of a heavenly Father, listens to His children question what they're going through, what they're told to do. Have you ever read the book of Job? Or the Psalms?

And so we let our kids ask why. Why do you want me to do it that way? Why do I have to do it right now? Why does my Sunday School teacher at church make us...? Through the why questions, we've raised kids who aren't just blindly obeying because we're going to squash them if they don't. Instead, they know why our rules are important. They have a framework to understand. And this framework has allowed them, as they get older, to make their own decisions about what's the right thing to do. Instead of running out and doing whatever they wish when they finally get out from under our watching eyes, they usually make good decisions about what's right and wrong.


Question why with them.

One of the things I've loved the most about homeschooling is the fact that, because we're together so much, we often have these little unplanned moments where awesome discussions happen. We can be reading a history lesson together when all of a sudden, someone asks a question about why the people we're reading about did what they did. Or why does this people group have these religious beliefs? Or why did one country treat another country that way?

In these moments of unplanned questions and discussions, I make a point to ask why with the kids. I want them to know that I don't know it all but that I care and want to seek answers along with them. I want them to know that questioning what we hear or what we read is a good thing. Thinking critically and not just accepting everything at face value is an awesome thing to do.

Sometimes when we question why, we reach a conclusion. At other times we don't. But the point is to encourage critical thinking. And when I admit that I don't know it all, and I question along with the kids, I often learn something new from them.

Raising kids who think for themselves

Having kids that can think for themselves is so important. Questioning, thinking critically, asking why helps kids to formulate their worldview. It also helps them to think about right and wrong and how to make good decisions when they are on their own.



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