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A Historic Teaching Moment for Critical Thinking

Photo by Lauro Rocha on

The events of the past week, with mobs of rioters attacking the Capitol building, has everyone on edge. Including kids.

In the aftermath a number of articles have been written on how to talk to kids about it. Many of these come from child psychologists like me. The advice has mostly focused on how to help children feel safe and understand what is happening. That is critical.

But one perspective that has been missing is that this is a historic teaching moment. A (thankfully) rare moment when the failure to be skeptical and think critically erupted off the internet and into real life with catastrophic consequences. The glaring outcome of believing conspiracies and hoaxes has never been so vivid.

The people in that mob are likely beyond reach. Changing their minds is a task that even an army of cult deprogrammers are unlikely to accomplish anytime soon. But as parents we can actually solve this problem. I truly believe this. We can do something about it. Something that will make a difference. Something that can literally change the world.

We can raise our kids to be skeptical critical thinkers.

Make it a priority. Don’t wait.

Here are three steps for talking to your kid about what has happened with the goal of raising a critical thinker in mind:

Step 1: Coach Emotions

Critical thinking is nearly impossible when we are fearful, angry, or caught in the grip of strong emotions. The first step to good critical thinking is learning how to stay calm even when things are scary and confusing. Teach your child to take a deep breath, name their feelings, and do what they need to calm down and think clearly. That probably means lots of hugs.

Step 2: Find out what they have heard:

Ask what they already know, what they don’t, and what they suspect is going on. Answer their questions and be honest. Help them understand the facts.

Step 3: Coach critical thinking with a few crucial points:

  • Beliefs are very important. When people believe bad things they are more likely to do bad things.
  • When people stop caring about what is true that can be very dangerous.
  • The solution to these problems is for people to become better critical thinkers, and that means listening to experts, believing science, and being skeptical of non-experts with strong opinions.

Of course these are just starting points. Your child will likely take the conversation to places you can’t imagine. That is good. Follow their lead. Model critical thinking throughout. Ask socratic questions. Bring up multiple perspectives. Praise your child for their effort in critical thinking. Give your child room to disagree. And above all, stay tuned in emotionally. These are scary times. If you sense your child is getting overwhelmed with the topic, stop and go back to emotion coaching.

If enough parents seize this teaching moment we can all nudge the next generation toward a future where the events of the past week will seem distant and hard to imagine. I hope that future comes soon.

Would you like to teach your child critical thinking skills but don’t know where to start? Here are some FREE worksheets to get you started!

Want to really take it to the next level? Read this fun mystery story with your child. The hero of the story uses critical thinking to solve mysteries and rescue his parents! It is FREE with Kindle Unlimited.



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