Our schools take on the responsibility of teaching our children to become critical thinkers — individuals who are able to analyze and evaluate material in order to make informed decisions. 

Whether it is in science, social studies, or literature, teachers know that critical thinking leads to greater gains on standardized tests and better marketability. (Critical thinking skills are among the top 10 skills employers look for when hiring candidates.) 

Thus, teachers — elementary, high school, and college — continually push to have their students think more critically. However, parents must help their children hone that same skill outside the classroom. For example, when children think critically about the way women are portrayed on television or the way commercials persuade Americans to overeat, they can better discern for themselves what is good for them and what isn’t. 

Critical thinking skills can help them make more informed decisions that lead to positive change within themselves and within the community. 

Encourage questions

Asking questions is common among critical thinkers because it indicates the ability to analyze and examine content, not just blindly accept. Children like to ask questions and, typically, “why” is their favorite word. Yet tired, stressed parents often reject natural child curiosity by telling their kids to be quiet, or sitting them in front of a TV or computer screen to learn. 

Although the media provides many educational programs for youth, educational programming is often one-sided, not allowing children to interact or discuss the content they receive. Implicitly, this causes children to accept what they learn as fact without questioning. Instead of discouraging your children’s whys, encourage their questions. 

When you’re tired of answering, have your children write their questions in a composition notebook, categorize their questions by topic, and hold them accountable for finding the answers. 

If you would like your child to use technology to find the answers, have them do so, but be sure to follow-up to discuss the answers. 

Evaluate each answer and then discuss whether you and your child agree. 

Ask open-ended questions

Parents can also enhance their children’s critical thinking skills by asking open-ended questions during reading. These are questions that cannot be answered by “yes” or “no.” Instead, they force individuals to answer in their own words. Because of this, open-ended questions facilitate better insight and understanding, motivate children to reflect and analyze, and cause children to draw information from previous books or experiences. 

Open-ended questions usually begin with the words “how” or “why.” For example, you may ask your child, “How would you describe the friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur in Charlotte’s Webb?” Or “Why do the pink and yellow dog drive off together at the end of Go Dog Go?” Other questions that can be asked of almost any book are, “How does the character feel right now?” and “What do you think will happen next?” Such questions build your children’s comprehension skills and cause them to apply such thinking to other content, like music videos, movies, and Facebook postings.

Multiple points of view

Critical thinkers think expansively. They are able to pull from diverse perspectives in order to analyze, evaluate, and make informed decisions. To encourage creative thinking, have your child read various sources on one topic. For example, ask your child to follow a popular news story from four different media representatives, such as the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Austin Weekly News, and someone’s blog. Ask your child to identify the angle taken in each article and discuss the reasons some sources focus on different content than others. Your child might find that one source focuses on the cultural themes of the story while another focuses on the financial ones. 

Your child may also apply this activity to news from various networks or opinions from different people. Encourage them to observe the thoughts of others and take them into account when declaring their own. 

Critical thinking enables young people to analyze, evaluate, and think from multiple perspectives. This type of thinking leads to decision-making that is not impulsive, selfish, or irrational, but cautious, considerate and informed. Such decisions are the ones we need from our youth, who must decide whether to pull a trigger or ask for help.