Growing up in a strict, cult-like religion, I was taught from a young age to conform my mind to the rigid beliefs and ideas of my family, church, and school. I was well into adulthood before I understood that non-conforming thoughts were not evil, and that I was free to let my mind consider other ideas and beliefs.
For this reason, it has been extremely important to me that I not only allow, but encourage my children to think for themselves. The mind of a child is pure and unadulterated, and we can learn a great deal if we listen to their honest evaluations without offering our own opinions first.
One of the best ways to make sure your child thinks freely is to simply ask what he thinks. One afternoon, we were sitting next to the window in a local restaurant, when my very young son observed a woman going into the carry-out pizza place. He exclaimed: “Her is wearin’ a bikini to get a pizza!”
Now, I could have chosen to express disdain, or I could have told him why it didn’t matter what she was wearing. Instead, I simply asked, “What do you think about that?”
His little face screwed up thoughtfully, and then he stated, “I think I don’t know if her went swimmin’ or not.”
I commended him for not making assumptions, and for realizing that there is always more to the story.
Other non-prompting questions to ask are:
“How does that make you feel?”
“What would you do in that situation?”
“What seems best to you?”
“Do you think there is a wrong way to do that?”
“Can you think of some other examples?”
“What was the first thing that popped into your mind?”
“Can you reframe what happened?”
“Do you have an opinion on that?”
Encouraging our children to be freethinkers shows them that they are valued, and that their feelings are not wrong. As adults, it will not only give them the confidence to make the best decisions for themselves, but will also help prevent them from becoming entangled in mentally and emotionally abusive relationships.