Thinking starters or thinking stoppers?

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Our goal in working on self-regulation is to help children think on their own. But how we talk to children either increases their thinking or stops it. It’s really pretty straightforward – tell them what to do and you’re the one doing the thinking. Your child is just following orders. Ask them to think for themselves and you’re on the road to helping them become better decision-makers.

Let’s see how this works. Here are some examples:

Situation: a child is fussing because their shirt got wet
Thinking Stopper:  “Go and put on a clean shirt.”
Thinking Starter: “That wet shirt probably feels uncomfortable. What can you do to help yourself?”
Comments: in the thinking stopper, the adult did the problem-solving and the child just followed orders. In the thinking starter, you identified why the child is upset but then you prompted them to figure out what to do. This will help the child to become a better problem-solver and maybe become less upset about a wet shirt in the future.

Situation: it’s time to leave for school
Thinking Stopper: “Put on your shoes and coat, get your lunch and homework and put them in your backpack.”
Thinking Starter: “It’s time to leave for school. What do you need to do to get ready?”
Comments: Remember, our children have difficulty with planning and organization so pictures (like those below) can be a great help to your child. They’re reminders but your child still has to think for themself.

Situation: one child (Tim) is bugging/annoying another child (John)
Thinking Stopper: “Stop bothering John.”
Thinking Starter: “John, what can you do when someone is bugging you?”
                            “Tim, John doesn’t like that. What can you do to help him?”
Comments: in this example, we’re prompting both children to think. John can do some problem-solving and decide to move away or ask Tim to stop. Tim can stop bugging John or decide to go and do something else.

Situation: A child is making a lot of noise and is bothering other people
Thinking Stopper: “Stop making that noise.”
Thinking Starter: “John, that noise makes it hard for other people to work. What could you do to help?”
Comments: in the thinking starter, you explain what the problem is and then get the child to think of a way to help.

Situation: A child is scribbling in a story book.
Thinking Stopper: “Stop! Don’t write on the book.”
Thinking Starter: “Where do we write things? Books are for reading. Pieces of paper are for writing. What can you do?”
Comments: in the thinking starter, you explained what books are for and where writing/scribbling should be done. Then you encourage the child to think about what to do.

Situation: A child is walking toward a busy street
Thinking Stopper: “Stop!”
Thinking Starter: “Stop!”
Comments: This is a safety situation and not time to work on thinking. Do that before a situation like this.

Using Thinking Starters takes time and thinking on your part. Look at your efforts as investing in your child’s future. When you use Thinking Starters and guide your child to making reasonable decisions, you’re helping them develop greater independence and better problem-solving skills.

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