We've all got opinions, values and views. To respectfully hear another person's opinion is, I would argue, a necessary life skill. It requires keeping an open mind, critical thinking, and empathy.
It's not easy, trust me. But it is teachable.
Around age 5 1/2 -6, children become very sensitive to values and highly impressionable. The work of a six year old is to develop a conscience, and she'll build one with the information she sees in her life. We have an important opportunity here to teach our child HOW to think, not WHAT to think. It's this subtle difference that results in boxed in black-and-white views, vs a creative, open-minded individual.
Your child is going to be bombarded with all kind of messages, opinions, judgments, accusations, manipulation, and social pressure in her life. If she has only heard WHAT to think “because it's right, because it's the rules, because I said so, because it's wrong”, she has no skills to fall back on when her surface level morality is shattered, no filter to consider this new information with. She'll be at a severe disadvantage. Give her the tools to build her critical thinking skills and she can stand strong, carefully considering new information as it is presented.
Here's a game you can play with your 6 year old to encourage empathy, critical thinking, and respectful arguing. The game goes like this:
Child: “Mom, my teacher said that Christopher Columbus was a terrible person. But he has a holiday named after him.”
Mom: “Hmm, what facts do you know about him?”
Child: “Well, he came to America from Spain in three boats, and discovered a new world. And lots of people died.”
Mom: “So, what's so terrible about that?”
Child: “She said he killed all those people, turned them into slaves, and tricked them.”
Mom: “That sounds pretty terrible. Why might some people think he's a hero?”
Child: “Because they are stupid”
Mom: “Well, just because people have a different belief than you do doesn't make them stupid. Could they be looking at the fact that he took that long voyage to an unknown place, and mapped out the land he “discovered”?
Child: “I guess...”
Mom: “Let's do some research and get all the facts we can. They you can decide what you think about him.”
Playing devil’s advocate to challenge your child's current conclusions—whether you agree or not— models how to respectfully challenge and disagree with an opinion. Stress the difference between facts and opinions at this age. Facts are non-negotiable, and can be proven. Opinions must be respected, and good opinions have reasoning behind them (from facts). Asking questions like “Why might someone think that?” helps a 6 year old develop her sense of empathy and expand her world view.
I challenge you to take on your own judgments and assumptions with curious examination as you play this game with your 6 year old. Even if you arrive at the same conclusions, you'll offer a strong model of critical thinking skills.
How else are you encouraging your children to be kind, compassionate, and open-minded? Share your tips with us on our Facebook group for parents!
Leanne Gray, M.Ed is the owner of The Prepared Environment, which supports families in creating an ideal environment for their children at home. She has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. She particularly loves to hear from you! You can always contact her for personalized support and answers to your questions.