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Let Your Children Think!

Updated on October 28, 2009

I taught fourth grade my first year in the profession. Thirty four wonderful children, eyes wide with anticipation reported for learning in my open-space classroom at Rippling Woods Elementary. We discussed many things the first couple of days, the most important being our classroom rules and procedures. Elementary teachers learn quickly that there has to be an established procedure for EVERYTHING in order to escape the relentless bombardment of mundane questions. One opening statement that always grabbed the attention of my little charges on the first day of school was, “Yes! There is such a thing as a stupid question!”

It became clear to me very early in my teaching career that the majority of my students had not been taught to think independently. They had grown so accustomed to being told what to do they felt as though they needed my permission to breath! Please don't misunderstand; I had many wonderful students who could easily grasp a concept with little or no input from me. Those same students, a month after the routines had been established, would turn around ask a question like, "May I sharpen my pencil?"

My automatic response was always, “Pretend you are me. How do you think I will answer your question?” This response normally wrought blank stares and even a few frustrated tears, (fourth grade girls can be so emotional) but it did not take long for the students to get it. You see, we had already designated times when it was and was not ‘OK’ to sharpen a pencil. I had gone to great lengths to put into place daily routines for everything from turning in homework to going to the bathroom. It normally only took me a few weeks to drive home the point that certain questions were unnecessary or “stupid questions.” My students had great fun posting these questions to our “STUPID QUESTIONS” bulletin board, when they were identified. Many of my miniature comedians spent hours attempting to come up with more questions just to say they had one on the board. And though it got a little silly at times, this bulletin board was an invaluable classroom management tool.

Independent thinking is a learning strategy which can be taught at home to very young children. There are only two determining factors to ponder before you begin to promote independent thinking at home:

  1. How do you establish a routine that promotes independent thinking
  2. When is the right time to begin?

Ultimately, it depends on your child. I am no expert on early childhood development, but simple choices like choosing which color bottle can start as early as your little one learns to point. Once your child understands the concept of pointing to one bottle or the other, you are on your way. Even late talkers can participate. My little guy didn’t start putting words together until he reached the two year mark. Even still, at 12 months he wanted to stand on the counter and choose a sippy cup from the cupboard just like his big sister.

Here are a few decisions your toddler can make every day:

  • Which cup or bottle
  • Juice or milk- later what flavor juice (I always have at least two choices)
  • What kind of cereal, toaster strudel, or pop tart (or any other breakfast food you keep on hand)
  • PBJ, Grilled cheese (or hot cheese as Abby says), hotdogs or Spaghetti Oh's
  • Which movie to watch

There really is no limit to the amount of choices you can give your little one. It's best to start with just two choices. Once your little prince or princess understands the concept, more options can be added.

My daughter started talking around her 9th month. It wasn't long after her first precious words (Daddy was her first) she began to put together two and three word phrases to express her desires and concerns. It was at this time I began asking her to make choices on her own. It started with something as simple as which color bottle she wanted. I held a pink bottle in one hand and a yellow one in the other and asked her, "Abby, would you like the pink bottle or the yellow bottle?" She would then point to the bottle she wanted. It is important to include the color names when asking to help your toddler match colors to their names.

At first the choices were completely random, but later they became more deliberate. Before long she was telling me, "Abby pick. Abby pick, Daddy!" It progressed from bottles to sippy cups. Juice or milk was the next challenge and shortly after that she began to get more specific about what kind of juice she wanted. I must warn you; once you establish this routine, your precious little baby will expect to have a choice. I recommend making only the choices you do not wish to have control over available. One of the best things about this technique is you have control over which two items from which they'll choose.

Allowing your child to make choices at a young age will help them become independent thinkers. Rather than ask questions for which you have already established a standard response, they will rely on themselves for the answer. This is an ongoing process with little ones, but my daughter is now four and still loves to make decisions about nearly everything. Whether it is which movie to watch, which snack to eat, what to have for breakfast or lunch- there is no option for dinner- or which juice to drink, Abby loves to make her decision from my limited list of options.

Over time, as they grow, the choice game will become less and less necessary. You'll be glad, however, you have mastered this technique when your baby hits puberty because you will need to begin the training all over again.


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    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 

      7 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Stay at Home Dad, Great hub! I wish I could have voted this hub up thrice as this is such a great piece of writing! It is so refreshing in this age of helicopter parenting that you have written this!

      Children will not learn the prerequisite thinking skills if their parents overcontrol them by making decisions that these children could make for themselves. It so sad to read that there are many adults from 18-25 years of age who need their parents with them during their college and job interview! Those same adults, when they enter the workplace, are woefully lacking in decision making skills.

      Children should be taught to be independent thinkers from the time they are five years old. Have discussions with them, ask their opinions on subjects. Have a two way conversation with them, not a one-way conversation when the parent says something and the child regurgitates and/or mimic it. Let children have a say in the conversation and see how better and more independent they turn out!

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      8 years ago from Georgia


      There is definitely a delicate balance between love and being firm. My students were always treated with love and respect, but a little tough love to prepare them for life in a world where love is becoming a rare commodity is (IMO) a very necessary requirement. Especially, in a loving environment where they feel safe.

      It has been a while since I wrote this hub and I probably should do a follow up to report on how well the lessons have worked. My little girl is now in the first grade and she has definitely benefited from learning to think independently.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and best to you... (=

    • couponalbum profile image


      8 years ago from Sunnyvale, CA

      Liked the pictures. Nice hub!

    • Hannah Ministries profile image

      Hannah Ministries 

      8 years ago

      Hi stay at home dad. I'm a mother that homeschool too and want to thank you for wording this topic. I realise that i do it allt he time but never have conciously made an attempt to do it. However my daughter is from a new generation cloth and she demands it. She is now 5 and in our culture it is onheard of to let children choose.

      I remember whens he was 2 and my mother would call to ask her out I would tell my mom: "oh that is great, I really need some time off but let me call her and ask her if she wants." My mother would not understand.

    • HubCrafter profile image


      8 years ago from Arizona

      OMG! You hit those little "whack-a-moles" with: "There IS such a thing as a stupid question"?

      Run Johnboy! Get help from Granpaw!

      Homey, ya gotta lighten up.

      The poor kids just got thru learning how to write their letters and numbers (so now they can't believe they can draw anymore).

      THEN... whamo! Form two lines children...

      Stupid questions on the right. Normal humans on the left. Stupid is as stupid does boys and girls.

      Ya know why Jesus loves me?

      (sorry. stupid question.)

      It's because He overlooks my faults. Like my "stupidity" about what is spiritual stuff and what's not.

      The verse that popped into my mind when I read your quote about stupid questions?....from Proverbs..."He who seeks Love, overlooks a matter".



    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      I appreciate your kind words poetlorraine and frogyfish. I love teaching almost as much as I love my children.

      Thank you for taking the time to read this hub and for your thoughtful comments...


    • frogyfish profile image


      9 years ago from Central United States of America

      You are an excellent teacher. Right on sir! We do need you back in the classroom too-but your children are lucky. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      congratulations, lucky child, maybe you will get to go back to work, people like you in the class room will be sorely missed. Thank you so much for commenting on Erin's work, she is so happy to see people's comments

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks Lowell,

      My wife and I found out about 8 weeks ago that I am going to get one more chance to implement these techniques! We were not planning on any more children, but we are excited to bring our third little one into our lives.

      Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment...

    • Lowell's Notes profile image

      Lowell's Notes 

      9 years ago

      I really enjoyed your approach to this. I could not agree more. Nice work! :)

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you all for your kind words and thoughtful comments. I have not been on for a while to moderate comments and I apologize for not saying something sooner.

      Keep letting the children in your lives think! :-)

    • prasetio30 profile image


      9 years ago from malang-indonesia

      As a teacher of kindergarten and elemetary, I agree with your hub. When we treat our children early like let the children think will improve their brain ability. The important think treat the children to know different about good or bad. formal ability to think like color, shape, math, can added slowly.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 

      9 years ago from India

      Great hub and like someone said before me, super title! I agree that our children need to have their minds opened up - for too long, we have moved towards a blinkered system. I did a lot of this when my daughter was young without really being aware of it - more instinctively - and it's great to see it's paid off. They start weighing the options and making decisions that are relevant. Thumbs up for a great read!

    • hsofyan profile image


      9 years ago from Indonesia

      Experience stunning. Thank you for sharing. Already too old child "occupation" by the parents. They have the right to enjoy life and determine their own fate. Parents should not force the will. Parents only "deliver" a child that was able to live, according to character. Best regards..

    • Hope Wilbanks profile image

      Hope Wilbanks 

      10 years ago from Louisiana

      This is an awesome Hub!! I love your no-nonsense way of thinking. :) And I totally agree.

    • Kylie Doak profile image

      Kylie Doak 

      10 years ago from Australia

      Fantastic hub!  I can relate to it so well :)

      I've always believed that it is a good thing to give your child choices, even when very young, just like you said (but not over the things that we as parents need to have control over at that point in time - just like you said). 

      I have actually been criticised over the years by a small few (both small in number and small-minded!) who believe that children "can't think for themselves" and that all the decisions should be made for them.  While I agree that depending on the age of the child, there are some things that they shouldn't have a choice in, it's those simple little choices (eg: which cup, which outfit - but only of two choices of course) that allow our children to develop independence and consequently feel good about themselves for being able to make those decisions. While they may be little choices for us, I believe that they are big and important choices for our children.

      Not to mention the fact that children are people too and just like us adults, children like and need to feel good about themselves too!

      lol - and I can soooo relate to the "stupid question" thing.  I don't mind answering questions that children ask me (including mine), but I get particularly peeved when the same "I-can't-think-for-myself-and-make-a-decision-and-I-want-someone-else-to-make-the-decision-for-me" questions get asked time and time again!

      Thanks for sharing.  I look forward to reading the rest of your hubs :)

      ~ Regards ~

      Kylie Doak

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks Princessa.

      I think teaching our children to think for themselves is one of the most important things we can do. Independent thinking is not automatic. It is learned by doing, like most things in life.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      10 years ago from France

      Very well written hub on a very important subject for parents with young children. It is important to teach your child to be an independent thinker rather than just a follower.

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Great point. I have started to do this with my 4 year old and I have been doing so with my 12 year old for years. Thanks for adding your thoughts... :)

    • JohnKhoo profile image


      10 years ago

      I would like to add a point. In the mean time of promoting independent thinking to children, guide them on how to MAKE A JUDGEMENT on a decision is always a great move. Differentiate and guide them on what are the negative and positive effects that will be raised if a particular decision is made. Think first and only make the correct decision. This will train their mind of thinking and lead them to a more mature mind.

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      It really is these basic choices that make such a big difference in a child's development.  Even my two year old, who has struggled a little to put words together, loves to choose everything I mentioned in the hub. 

      He also loves to help me do things around the house and his attention to detail blows my mind.

      Thanks so much for reading...

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      10 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      What a marvelous hub! I couldn't agree with you more. We have to let out kids start thinking and allowing them to make choices. We employ that technique a lot in preschool. "Do you want to write or color first?" to a child who needs to finish her seatwork. This truly works!

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks Karen. I think teaching our kids to think for themselves is one of the best things we can do for them. And I know many many teachers that would agree... :-)

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment...

    • Karen N profile image

      Karen N 

      10 years ago from United States

      Great hub, I've always done my best to see that my children are independent thinkers. But I do see so many that are discourged against it, it's actually very sad.

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      I have a 12 year old step son as well and I tell him the SAME THING! Isn't that funny? I'll bet you heard it from your dad, just like I did mine.

      You have my deepest respect. You, as well as I, know what a joy and sacrific it is to stay at home with your children. The dividends may not be apparent until they are grown and parents themselves, but I can't help but think our kids will be better off for our efforts.

      Best to you... :-)

    • kevinlt9 profile image


      10 years ago from Gwynn Oak,Maryland

      I'm also a stay at home dad with two sons 12&13. I always tell them that there's nothing that they'll ever do, that I haven't already done.And man does this get them thinking, I'm starting to see better decision making as every year goes by.Great info. and very important for good development.

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      10 years ago from Georgia


      I appreciate your kind words...


      It is easier and less time consuming to simply tell a child what to do. Unfortunately, I found that most of the parents of my students never tought about it much before I talked to them. Many were single parents, and by the end of the day they just wanted the kids to do what they were told and not give them a lot of trouble.

      I made it clear that I was not questioning their parenting skills, just giving them a tool to help them make their lives easier after their babies were old enough to do things on their own.

      Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment...

    • philozophyxtreme profile image


      10 years ago from Georgia

      This article was wonderful. It seems a trend that adults just love telling kids what to do because they think they aren't smart enough to do it on their own or something. This is great advise.

    • C.S.Alexis profile image


      10 years ago from NW Indiana

      I like your ideas in general. Great Hub. C.S. Alexis

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      One of these days I need to write a hub to post all of the teaching ideas I've gleaned from my colleagues over the years.  I will claim the Stupid Questions board as my own, but I am sure it was a variation of something I saw somewhere else. 

      Glad you liked and really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment... :-) 

    • MM Del Rosario profile image

      MM Del Rosario 

      10 years ago from NSW, Australia

      I like the idea of the stupid questions bulletin board.!!!

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      10 years ago from Georgia


      I have no doubt you will be an excellent father some day. Your comment is evidence of that. Truth is; it is much easier to tell children what to do and think than it is to take the time to allow them to decide. Thanks for reading…


      You make an excellent point that I had not considered. Thank you for your thoughts and wise words…

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      10 years ago from Georgia


      Appreciate your kind words, but I am far from the best dad. I just have a little common sense and try to instill it in my children. My wife and I do consider raising our children to be responsible, productive citizens our greatest responsibility. This is just one of the ways we are attempting to accomplish the task.


      Thank you so much for reading my hub. I’m no expert, but I can’t help but think letting our children make choices will benefit them later in life. Your daughter is adorable!

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      When we give children the opportunity to choose, we are also showing them that we respect their judgment. Not only does that give them confidence, it also shows them how to give that same respect to others.

      Thumbs up!

    • talented_ink profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      I like this one. This also makes me think to the future and the independent thinkers that are raised now can become leaders tomorrow while the ones that have to ask questions about things that were already discussed as routine usuall end up as the underlings of free thinkers.

    • mahrina profile image


      10 years ago

      I like your way of teaching a child. I also have a 15months daughter before reading this I was tried to put my decision on her. but now onwards I would let her chose because I am impressed with your attitude towards children.

    • marisuewrites profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      bravo!! allowing and setting up scenarios where kids choose, create their opinions, build their security and place in the world is BEST PARENTING. You are hereby crowned BEST DAD!! way to go!! Teaching them to predict outcomes and think ahead will pay big dividends in the future, allowing them to be strong against peer pressure and to be self-reliant and productive citizens.

      I'm very impressed... =)))

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks Dottie1-

      I made this point with all of the parents of my students whenever we met for conferences. I know that it is much easier to take away options to save time, but this, I feel, is a disservice to our children.

      Appreciate your comment and thanks for reading...

    • Dottie1 profile image


      10 years ago from MA, USA

      "Let you children think". Love the title. Important subject. Thanks for sharing.

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      10 years ago from Georgia


      Thank you for reading. I hope you are entertained by reading my hubs and they make you think a little. Your comments are always welcome... :-)

    • Stay at Home Dad profile imageAUTHOR

      Stay at Home Dad 

      10 years ago from Georgia


      My stepson is fast approaching his 13th birthday and you are so right about the "limiting" of choices. We talk more now about making good choices, especially when he is away from home.

      I know the amount of control I have over the choices he makes is on the decline. I will be sure to relay your very timely advice on to him. He's a good boy, but like most kids his age thinks he has already figured everything out and his mother and I are not so bright.

      Thanks for reading...

    • xrated profile image


      10 years ago

      Hi ! Thank you for leaving the good message for me at my profile page. This is good work. I love all your writing. I will go through all your 12 articles and hope to learn something new. Have nice time.

    • moovnmom profile image


      10 years ago

      I agree, I agree, I agree. It seems somehow that segment of child rearing slowly vanished.

      Then children show up at school, looking to their teachers, with the blank stare you described. My kids are now beyond this age range, and I'm sure other parents would agree, no 2 kids are alike. My 1st one went along with my program perfectly. She never made a fuss. Ah life was bliss. Then the 2nd one comes along. Whoa! If I use your example of the 2 different colored bottles, one in each hand as the choices, this child would have pointed to the Pepsi in Dad's hand! She always seemed to be aware there was more than 2 choices and the one she wanted, wasn't being offered! As well, she as not so agreeable to limiting her number of choices. And she didn't GROW out of it either.(I'm really actually, GLAD she didn't).

      But, even the easy ones, like my first, grows UP. Then once they have reached that 'tween' age, it becomes clear there is a 2nd lesson we thought we covered, we MUST have. But still here we are with those darned choices again. Yeah, they made a choice alright. The problem is we, as parents, are not the ones always doing the offering. And what if none of the choices are suitable, safe or sane?

      Have we sufficiently prepared them for qualifying their options?

      My daughters told me the best advice I ever gave them, when they asked me, "How do you know when you've made the right decision"? Was because you won't have a big knot in your stomach, if it's the right one. And you will be proud to say it was YOUR decision.

      Great post-we can all relate!


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