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Three Tricks for Getting Kids to Start Thinking for Themselves - Part Two

communication growth Mar 09, 2021

Three Tricks for Getting Kids to Start Thinking for Themselves - No Matter Their Age PART TWO

Last time we began the conversation about three strategies that can help kids to think for themselves Three Tricks for Getting Kids to Start Thinking for Themselves - Part One  ...but I didn’t actually give you the strategies!  Partly it was because I wanted you to think about it a bit first, and partly it was because the post was huge! 

So, let’s finish this baby off, shall we?

A Few Words of Caution

Like I’ve already explained, moments of danger are NOT the time for these strategies.  

When time is of the essence (like you’re going to miss your flight) it’s also not the greatest choice (although it IS a perfect situation to debrief AFTER the fact). 

If you’re starting to use these strategies with kids who know you and your patterns of communication already, you might have to ease them into this new way of approaching things.  You might have to tell them exactly what you’re doing and why.  You might get negativity and resistance, especially if kids feel that you’re being patronizing.  If you’re not genuine - and patient - you’re already DOA.  Fact.

This makes sense if you think about it - if a kid is accustomed to everyone and everything in their world simply thinking for them (including you), then they’re NOT going to embrace the change straight out of the gate.  They’ll be pissed.  Maybe confused, sure.  But mostly pissed. Change takes time - for you AND for them.

Finally, be careful how you approach circumstances when the kid doesn’t really have any choices.  Sometimes people make the assumption that having a kid think for themselves means that there are choices to be made - but many times there aren’t, so don’t set up conversations as if there are options, just to bait-and-switch at the backend of the dialogue.  That’ll blow up in your face epically, I promise you.

My Three Tricks (you can call them ‘Approaches’ or ‘Strategies’, too, if you like!)

I know, I know - I always make you wait for the sauce.  But there’s a reason: if I just give you a list and set you loose into the world, I do you - and the kids you might encounter in this case - a disservice.  Sorry!  As a coach, teacher, and mentor, I have to ensure you know why before I show you how.  Forgive me.

ONE  Take a breath and check in with your body.



The reason is that you - while being an adult - are just a human.  This means you’re almost always caught up in your own story - why something happened, what someone’s thinking, what you have to do next, how this kid’s behaviour affects your ability to do XYZ, you name it.

When you take a breath and check in with your body, you are giving yourself a chance to notice - notice the clenched hands and teeth, the aggressive posture, the rising anger in your throat, and all the rest.

Take this moment to commit to managing your 

  • tone of voice, 
  • word choice and 
  • physicalization of your emotions.  

Not only will you begin to shift your energy (and intentions), you will be able to assess and react to the situation as the adult that you are.  Plus you’ll model it for kids. Yay!!  Double win!

TWO  Ask a question.

A GOOD question, not an inflammatory question, like, 

“WHAT ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH WERE YOU THINKING?” or “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!” or “WHY CAN’T YOU REMEMBER [INSERT WHATEVER]??” or anything similar.  Those aren’t questions: those are your emotions coming out of your mouth in word-form.  Which is why STEP ONE (above) is first!

Do not make it about you, either (so, “Why do you do this to me?!” and “Now I’ve got to do XYZ, thanks a lot!” are off the table, too).

Make it about a solution.

So, here’s how it might sound (kid has just dumped all the frozen peas on the floor in front of the fridge at supper time, when we’re already running late - true story):


“Well.  That’s certainly not where the peas go.  How will the peas get back into the bag?” (I always like to throw a bit of humour in, when I can - helps me, helps them).  And while you might not say it that way with a teen, you actually can (on occasion) get away with it, because teens generally love a little sarcasm.

Here’s another one: Kid didn’t bring binder with materials, didn’t practice, doesn’t even know where the binder is - and didn’t bother to troubleshoot (so it’s already been three weeks since the last practice - again, true story):


“Hmm.  That’s a challenge, for sure.  We’re not going to be able to get much practice in today without those materials.  How should we use our time today so that it’s not wasted?” 

In this instance, most kids won’t have a ready answer (although, in time, they will, because they’ll have the thinking skills - plus, they’re less likely to repeat the behaviour, overall).  You may have to help them brainstorm.  Again, you have to keep your inner adult on point.  Kids are learning from you.  Take it seriously.

And another: a teen you’re coaching completely loses it on the field, and is removed from the game.  This is your star, the one that you needed to win this game, the game that would’ve sent you to finals.  Teammates are livid, as are the parents.  Truth be told, you’d like to kill the kid, too.  


And probably ANOTHER breath.

“We’re going to need to deal with this later.  For now, let’s stay focused.  I’d like you to think about the approach you’d like to take after the game.”  That doesn’t seem like a question, but it is - it is a rhetorical question.  Rhetorical questions are meant to cause people to think but not to respond….yet.  You’re queueing the kid up for the time AFTER the game, effective asking them “what do you want to do about this….?” without engaging in that actual moment (which would be a bad idea anyhow, because emotions are too high to be useful).

THREE - Don’t have the answers.

Don’t have the answer.  Don’t offer the solution.  Don’t rescue them (unless there’s a bear involved).

Did you notice, the last example in TWO, that I didn’t say anything about ‘talking’ or ‘discussing’?  There’s a reason: you’re not handing any thinking or solutions to the kid - but you ARE inviting them into the process of determining what comes next. Yes, you’re deferring the question-proper until later, but you are also giving them the opportunity to attempt problem-solving on their own first.  If you said something like, “After the game, we’re going to talk about this, and you’re going to do XYZ, and apologize to ABC”, etc., you’re taking away the potential the situation holds.

It’s like the toddler who keeps dropping shit off their highchair table.  They see you pick it up, and then you say something like, “Don’t do that again,” or “That’s naughty.  We don’t throw, “ or “If you do that again, I won’t pick it up.”  

They do it again.

You pick it up again.

And on and on.  You never make it stick.  You might get more and more frustrated, but you keep picking it up, saying the same thing over and over.  And the kid learns that you’ll solve the problem for them - you might bitch and moan about it, but you still do it.  By the way, this also applies to those times your teenager forgets their homework at home, or somehow racks up a $500 data bill on their phone, etc., and you drop the homework off at school or pay that horrendous bill.

Even worse is when the kid sees YOU BLAME SOMEONE ELSE.  So, they get a bad mark (and they haven’t been paying attention, doing homework, getting help, etc.) and you say “The teacher doesn’t know what she’s doing.”  Or your kid bullies a kid on the playground, and you say, “Kids will be kids,” or “He must have started it first,” or “Billy never does stuff like that - the playground monitor was obviously just on her phone and  she’s listening to bad information now.”  

What does that tell the kid?  Yeah.  Not only will you save them but you won’t even acknowledge that there is any ownership of the problem/difficulty in the first place.  

The consequences of “saving” kids from themselves become greater and greater as they age.  That toy car they stole because they wanted it (when they’re four) that you brush it off becomes (potentially) the jacket they steal at the mall because they wanted it (when they’re seventeen). The older the kid, often the steeper the price.  One that could possibly have been avoided.

There you have it - another set of tools to tuck into your toolbox, courtesy of TEEwithD.  You’re welcome :-)

“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.”
~ Ann Landers

One final thought, before I sign off - I am 210% aware that life doesn’t always allow for such level-headed approaches: sometimes our stress levels are so off the charts, we’ve lost the plot.  Sometimes we’re so busy we don’t know which end is up.  Sometimes kids are being little shits.  Sometimes there are clinical and/or psychological factors at play.  I don’t live in a coconut, and I know you don’t either.  Life happens.  The point is that you’re creating AWARENESS, which can lead to CHOICE.  You’re at least showing up to play, right?


xo d


(ps. I am personally inviting you to book a wee chat with me, at TEEwithD - we’ll have a Zoom call, a cuppa something we like, and get to know each other a bit. 

I’ll tell you all about my signature TEEwithD™ Transformation Coaching for Women.  I love nothing better than helping women just like you unleash all of the wildness and potential just waiting to emerge. 

This is your opportuniTEE (see what I did there? ;-) )

When you’re ready, I’ll be waiting.

xo d

If you want to join a group of like-minded women who are OWNING IT, but want to take their game even further by really digging into and defining their values, vision, and voice, on their own terms!), then TEEwithD will be the place to be! - the launch of the digital, global platform will allow you to learn, laugh, lead and leverage your greatest strengths as a person and a speaker, in pursuit of your biggest dreams (oh, and we’re out to help each other change the world, too!). Sign up here to be part of the “in crowd”!



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