How to Teach Your Child Critical Thinking

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

Research has shown that higher-order thinking skills can be taught and that children improve their thinking skills if they are taught how to do it directly. In our digital age, where misinformation spreads easily, it's more important than ever that children be taught to think critically about the world around them. 

Unfortunately, most people don't believe schools are doing enough to teach critical thinking. A survey done by the Reboot Foundation found that 94% of people believe that critical thinking is extremely or very important but 86% believe that it's a skill most people don't have. The good news is that it's possible for you to teach your child these important skills. 

What Is Critical Thinking?

The American Philosophical Association defines critical thinking as a set of six skills and subskills including:

  1. Interpretation – categorizing, decoding significance, and classifying meaning
  2. Analysis – examining ideas, identifying arguments, and analyzing arguments
  3. Evaluation – assessing claims and assessing arguments
  4. Inference – questioning evidence, thinking of alternatives, and drawing conclusions
  5. Explanation – stating results, justifying procedures, and presenting arguments
  6. Self-regulation – self-examination and self-correction

Teaching Critical Thinking at Different Ages

You can start teaching critical thinking at a young age. The underlying skills are the same, but how you teach them will vary by age. 

Young Children

With young children, you should teach critical thinking in the context of everyday life. You can build on your everyday interactions to help them develop good decision-making skills. Fortunately, young children are primed for this. They are naturally curious about how the world works. You can support this by:

  • Encouraging their curiosity. When your kids ask why something is a certain way, help them find out. Encourage them to explore, test out what they believe, and then think about why something happened or didn't happen. Guide them into thinking about what they could do differently next time. If their block tower falls over, talk about strategies for building it higher. 
  • Encourage their interests. Young children are known for having obsessions. Use their interests as a springboard and help them find out all they can about it. Read books or take them to exhibits that center their current passions. 
  • Teach them to evaluate information. When your child comes to you with some wild claim they heard from a friend, help them evaluate it and decide if they should believe it. Talk through the process of deciding if the information is reliable. Where did it come from? Does it fit in with what you already know? 
  • Help them learn from others. When your children ask you something you don't know the answer to, walk them through the process of finding out. Show them how you find and evaluate information on the internet or in a book. When the opportunity presents itself, let them learn from the experts like at the zoo or library. 
  • Teach them to solve problems. Whenever issues come up in daily life, teach your child to evaluate what exactly the problem is and brainstorm ways to solve it.  

Older Children

As your children get older, you can start to teach them more abstract ways of thinking, but you'll still want to focus on incorporating it into daily life and keeping it fun. You can do this by: 

  • Play logic games. This is a great age to introduce logic puzzles and games that require deductive reasoning. Play Clue on family game night or talk about brain teasers in the car on the way to soccer practice.
  • Help them deal with puberty and adolescence. Talk to your kids about the changes they are experiencing and how they can stay focused during so many distractions. Help them learn to manage their impulses and emotions. Focus on the positive changes they're experiencing. 
  • Manage screen time. Help your kids develop healthy screen-time habits. Teach them to evaluate sources and eliminate toxic ones. Talk to them about advertising and other motives people have for the content that they put on the internet. Encourage healthy limits and discipline with technology. 
  • Teach them to think about their thinking. At this age, kids can become aware of how they think. Teach them about cognitive biases such as confirmation bias – when we interpret new information in a way that fits in with what we already believe. The first step in overcoming such biases is knowing that they are there. 
  • Help them navigate their social life. Maintain a good relationship with your child so that they'll see you as a resource rather than someone to be feared and avoided. Talk to them about their friends and peer pressure. Be sympathetic and helpful as they develop their way of seeing the world. 

Show Sources


Michigan State University: "The importance of critical thinking for young children." 

Reboot Foundation: "Encouraging Critical Thinking in Preteens."

Reboot: "The State of Critical Thinking 2020."

Research Findings and Recommendations: "Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction."

School Improvement Research Series: "Teaching Thinking Skills." 

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