How to Improve Your Child’s Critical Thinking Skills

Oxford Languages defines critical thinking as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” It is the ability to interpret a question or situation and come up with the best-fitting solution. Children need critical thinking skills to interact with the world around them, but many children have experienced delayed skill development because of the pandemic.

The guide below explains why critical thinking is at a standstill and what you can do to boost your child’s analytical abilities.

Critical Thinking Has Plummeted Since the Pandemic

Do you feel like your children can’t think for themselves? Do you find yourself explaining every step of a task, even with instructions available?

Parents and teachers around the world have reported a sharp shift in children’s critical thinking skills since the start of the pandemic. This year has been particularly eye-opening because many students are back in school in person for the first time in two years.

There are several reasons why critical thinking skill development came to a halt during the pandemic. Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Online schooling forced many parents to become one-on-one tutors. Children now rely on constant prompting to complete tasks because they did not have social examples to follow in 2020.
  • Children expect to be given the right answer, even if they choose the wrong one initially. This is what happens on many online learning platforms, so children have developed a habit of picking an answer – any answer – just to complete the task. They know they’ll receive the right answer eventually, so they do not have to think about it for too long.
  • Teacher feedback has been minimal in the last two years, so students don’t have the same question-and-answer rhythm that they had before. Instead, they either rush through assignments or ask questions without actually reading the assignment.
  • Elementary students did not receive sufficient socialization during the pandemic, so they do not know how to interact with peers now. This creates feelings of anxiety, loneliness, frustration, and confusion, all of which may affect critical thinking abilities.
  • Students care more about getting the right answer than understanding why that is the answer. With online schooling, they got a boost of dopamine by clicking correct answers and completing assignments quickly. Their brains were conditioned to think that was the goal. It’s difficult to break that cycle.
  • Mental health struggles make learning difficult. Most children experienced trauma in 2020. They left their friends and teachers for the last time without warning and were thrust into an entirely new environment. Their brains aren’t developed enough to fully process that.

You know how much 2020 and the years that followed impacted your life as an adult. Layer those struggles with growth spurts, hormone changes, and the everyday obstacles growing children face. It’s easy to see why so many now have problems with critical thinking.

How to Improve Your Child’s Critical Thinking Skills

Do not rely on the school to teach your child critical thinking skills. They will certainly pick up some skills from school, but you need to further develop those abilities at home. Listed below are some ways you can help your child become a better critical thinker.

Do Not Automatically Intervene When Your Child Has a Problem

Kids learn through trial and error. They’re going to struggle at first but will only get better if you let them learn. Resist the urge to step in when your child is frustrated, confused, or discouraged. Encourage them to find their own solution before you take over the situation. They may still need you to provide the answer, but give them a chance to think on their own first.

Create an Environment of Imagination

Imagination is a cousin of critical thinking. Children learn to look at the world from unique perspectives when they use their imagination. Play make-believe with your kids. Hold a fort-building session every week with a new theme, or use building blocks to create new worlds night after night. The more you engage with them, the more they’ll learn.

Have Discussions about Books You’ve Read

Learning doesn’t have to end when the book closes. You could talk about some of the lessons within the book or ask your child about their favorite part. Use hypothetical questions to make them think critically. “What do you think would have happened if this had gone a different way?” You can prompt them with small suggestions, but let their growing mind take control of the conversation.

Narrate Your Own Problem Solving

Children are sponges. They absorb everything they see you do – good and bad. If you’re using your critical thinking skills, show that to your child. “I didn’t have the right tool to open this, but I figured out how to do it with a different tool.” You may even ask your child to help you solve a problem after you’ve found an appropriate solution. Let them participate in the process and celebrate the victory with you.

Ask Open-Ended Questions That Help Them Think in New Ways

Yes or no questions limit critical thinking. Your children will benefit from open-ended questions that allow them to tap into past experiences and learn something new. Try prompts like, “Let’s think of all the possible outcomes in this scenario” or “What would happen if we tried this instead?” They may not have the right answer or best answer right away, but they’re thinking. That is what is most important.

Ask Them about Things They Love

Children are told that they are wrong all day long. They rarely get to feel knowledgeable. Giving them a small boost of confidence will make a tremendous impact on their critical thinking development.

Ask them about topics they love to discuss, like their favorite movie or video game. “Have you found any cool new items in your game?” “What do the Stormtroopers do?” You may know the answers already, but the point here is that your child feels empowered by knowledge. They’ll be driven by that feeling moving forward.

Don’t Ignore Mental Health Struggles

If your child is facing mental health challenges, don’t ignore them. Mental health will affect academic performance, no matter how smart or talented your child is. Your child needs to know how to regulate emotions and process feelings in order to effectively employ their critical thinking skills.

The same can be said for your own mental health. If you’re struggling in any way, reach out for support. Lean on your loved ones and confide in people you trust. Work with a licensed therapist to find personalized coping strategies. The specialists here at CNLD Testing & Therapy would be happy to help you.

Reach out to (734) 994-9466 if you’d like to meet with one of our mental healthcare providers. We work with parents, children, teens, families, caregivers, and everyone in between.