Teaching your child to become an independent, practical reasoner


There are many things a parent needs to teach his or her child. The most obvious are things like learning to tie shoes and to brush one's teeth. One that isn't talked about as much is teaching your child to become an independent and practical reasoner.

A person who is an independent and practical reasoner is able to reach her own conclusions about why she should do one thing over another. She can also be held accountable by and to others for her actions. This is because, when she is called upon to do it, she can defend why she did what she did with well-thought-out reasoning.

To become an independent and practical reasoner is an achievement - one to which you, the parent, must contribute if your child is to attain it. You face a natural difficulty. You have to teach your child, who was initially totally dependent on you and not capable of thinking on his own, to become independent and to reason things through without you. What makes this difficult is that he will have learned, through his attachment to and affection for you, that in order to satisfy his desires, he should please you. Yet, if he is to become an independent and practical reasoner, you must teach him that it will please you most when he acts so as to achieve what is good and the best.

A difficulty your child will face comes when she has to learn how to detach herself from her immediate desires. She must learn to stop and ask herself, "Is it good and best for me to act right here and now to satisfy this or that particular desire? Or shouldn't I?" Answering this question requires that she pause and think about what could happen in the future as a result of her actions. She has to go beyond conflicting demands and automatic responses so she can remember her overarching goals - doing what is good and best - and order her desires accordingly.

If you fail to help your child transform her undeveloped practical thinking skills, she will be unable to achieve the independence she needs in order to flourish. For one thing, she will not be able to honestly say what she thinks. As a result, she will create conflicts. She will also be unable to acquire an adequate sense of herself as an independent person.

There are ways you can help your child to become an independent and practical reasoner. First, teach him to know and give reasons for his conclusions and to evaluate the reasons offered by others. Avoid pushing dogma. When you tell your child to do things in a certain way, give him reasons whenever possible. At the same time, encourage him to ask questions. This will help to foster his curiosity. If something doesn't make sense to him, support him in voicing his objections or difficulties.

You can also ask your child to consider alternative explanations and solutions to things. While it might seem nice for him to get the right answer, many problems have more than one solution. Help him to clarify what he means. Support him in putting things in his own words. Encourage him to make meaningful distinctions between things. All of these actions will, over time, enable him to think more clearly and do the right thing.

You won't always agree with the conclusions your child reaches as he learns to become independent and rational in his thinking. At times, he will reach the wrong conclusions and have to learn from them. However, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that when he leaves home without you, he will be able to flourish on his own.

Contact Shanti, who has a Ph.D. in psychology and is a self-actualization and parenting skills coach, at shanti@barbaraujones.com.