Traits of Excellence
An Independent Learner
A Creative Thinker
A Critical Thinker
An Information Manager
A Cooperative Learner
An Effective Communicator
A Confident Leader
A Time Manager
Every parent wants his or her child to succeed—in school, in relationships and in life. Is there a way to give your child an edge? We’ve all learned lessons about life and how to achieve goals. By modeling these skills for our children, we teach them about living a truly excellent life.
There are 10 traits that, when intentionally taught by parents, can help a child excel (see “Traits of Excellence,” right). When parents model these traits at home, children practice them in school. The payoff comes in life outside of the home. One of the most important traits is to become a critical thinker.
Engaging the mind
“Use your brain,” I heard my husband say to our son. He wasn’t being mean; he was trying to get Chris to evaluate a situation. “Why did you use soap to wash your hair?” he asked. “We’re out of shampoo,” Chris said. “How long have you been out of shampoo?” “A couple of weeks.” “Next time,” he spoke slowly, “what should you do when you run out of shampoo?” Chris ventured a guess. “Tell you?” “Any other ideas?” “Check before I get in the shower?” Chris said. “Get some from your bathroom?” Now the wheels were turning! “That’s right! Don’t worry. You’ll get it,” he said as he handed Chris a bottle of shampoo.
From thinking through everyday choices to addressing moral or ethical dilemmas, critical thinkers are raised, not born. Though shampoo is not a major life issue, if Chris doesn’t learn to think critically, his mind will be open to the whimsies of the world. Reason is the foundation of critical thinking skills and entails discernment. Discernment depends on the truth and implies judgment. Our children need to know how to recognize truth so they can judge the false ideas that could lead them astray. Yet judgments are only as good as the evidence supporting them.
Do you think critically?
Critical Thinkers . . .
Analyze problems and generate supporting arguments
Use the scientific method
Use deductive reasoning
People act on what they think; and they think based on what they believe is true. A person who is easily swayed by another doesn’t demonstrate an ability for discerning truth. Therefore, our beliefs are vitally important! This means that before you teach your children how to be critical thinkers, you need to ask yourself these questions:
Do I believe in absolute truth?
Do I struggle to assert what I believe to be truth?
Do I worry about what others think?
Am I willing to systematically break down a problem instead of just reacting to it emotionally?
Do I usually ask why, or do I just accept reasons others give me?
Do I look for and present evidence to back up my opinions?
Once you’ve settled these answers yourself, you can encourage and model critical thinking for your children. Consider the following examples of how to teach this.
At home: Exaggeration is common among children. Don’t let it slide. Stop and dig deep. Are her facts accurate? Sometimes exaggeration may be bragging. Help her understand why she’s trying to gain the approval of friends. Then teach her about appropriately earning respect.
In school: In middle and high school, children are confronted with conflicting opinions about right and wrong. They need guidance about when and how they should stand for the truth.
At work: Daily dilemmas are part of any job. What if your child is wrongly accused? What if he has difficulty completing tasks? Present some scenarios and help him think about how he can stay emotionally detached enough to identify problems and logical solutions.
Our ability to teach our children what is truth is a game of show-and-tell. If we do it well and teach our children to use their brains, they will live, work and parent with an edge of excellence.