How to raise an independent thinker

Friday March 6 2015

A model poses with a child. Understandably, women are concerned about the safety and health of their families, but HIV tests are not a prerequisite for employment. Your child interacts with very many other people whose HIV status you do not know. PHOTO/FILE

Wangui Thuo writes on the importance of encouraging independent thinking and give tips to help your child learn to trust his own judgment without being over-dependent on others. PHOTO/FILE 

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Most parents want the best for their children. As a result of these good intentions, it is easy to fall into the parenting trap where a parent’s input becomes the be-all and end-all as “mommy and daddy know best” thereby denying the child space to learn, grow, decide, fail, try again and take responsibility for their actions.

Thirty-five-year-old Njeri Kibiku believes that such an experience has produced certain challenges in her adult life.

 “During my childhood, my mother pretty much dictated the way things were done. Alternative views that challenged hers, to date, have no place to thrive. Much as this provided stability when I was younger, I noticed the challenges this presented when I became an adult.

“I find myself constantly second guessing my decisions and always preferring to consult on an issue even when I know I am right. I am also afraid of speaking up at work, at my son’s school or even when out and about; say at the supermarket because of this self-doubt.

 “This passivity makes me miss out on many personal development opportunities and yet I really want to set a better example for my child. With him, something I have realised that is really working for us is like when he is describing something or letting me know how his day was at kindergarten, I do not interrupt. The story might not always flow but that exercise of just letting him lead the conversation and my being responsive has been a great milestone especially in the way he is relating with and perceiving his environment,” Njeri says. 

According to Twidley Ithige, director of Jawabu Learning Centre, a child is considered an independent thinker when he can analyse and process problems with very minimal help from his caregiver.

“For example in a class set-up, when given a task, the child is already finding ways of doing it even before instructions are given. They easily predict their next activity where for example if it is snack time, the child knows that now I need to go and wash my hands.”

Best to nurture this trait right from birth

She adds that it is best to nurture this trait right from birth by engaging children in different activities. 

She encourages parents to allow their children to make mistakes and be messy when given tasks, as opposed to the parent asking the child to do the task in their preferred order and method, or even stepping in to do the task for the child.

“If for example you ask your child to set the table for dinner, the job might not be done very well and the mats might be placed haphazardly. The important thing is for the parent to applaud the obedience and great effort shown by the child.”

Rose Atieno shares a similar view and says that being involved with her children has borne fruit for the five of them, who are aged between 20 and 35 years, and who are successful in their chosen paths.

“I would describe all my children as independent thinkers because all they have achieved up to this point in their lives has been based on their own choices and not what anyone else wanted for them,” she says.

 This, she adds, does not mean that children are left to their own devices, pointing out that she had to find the right balance between letting her children follow their own paths and being an authority as a parent.

“Parents must be part of their children’s dream, guiding them and cautioning with love as they make their decisions.”

Through such encouragement and by letting children pursue activities of their choice, the children gain confidence to express themselves, defend their standpoints and make their own decisions without relying too much on other people.

While the local formal education system does not necessarily encourage independent thinking, Twidley advices teachers to foster this skill in pupils.

 She says that teachers can encourage independent thinking by allowing children to be involved in self-directed learning activities that require use of high-level thinking skills and that will culminate in the children presenting the material in their own way, with some guidance from the teacher.