Coaching vs. Directing: Helping Your Child Develop Critical Thinking Skills

This post is dedicated to my mentor Peggy. You have modeled and coached these behaviors since we’ve met. Simple but powerful. Thank you for coaching me on how to develop a thinking child.

Perhaps you have heard something similar to the following examples:

“Daddy, daddy! <insert name> is not giving me a turn with the basketball”


“DAD! <insert name> is not playing fair. I only have one marker while she is holding the rest!”

Really I could type for days how many times a similar type of conversation has started with my kiddos. I could easily pop in or out whatever their problem is at that moment…and it is all really the same. Bottom line: My child is seeking me out to solve a problem for them.

Don’t take the bait. There is a hook in there that will be hard to remove. Making a habit of jumping in and solving their immediate need sets a precedent that you will be the traffic cop for all their relational (and other) problems.

Now, truth be told, I used to buy into what they were saying and play the role of directing traffic to get their playback to normal. So when my child would complain that their sibling would not be sharing, my typical response sounded like this:

“HEY! Make sure you guys are taking turns!”


“GUYS! No fighting! Be sure to share!”

These moments that seem so normal, so innocuous, are critical and important in developing your child’s problem-solving skills. Yet, when I solved their problems by telling them what to do, I was really only robbing them of the opportunity to grow.

A much better way to approach this issue is to ask them questions. Asking questions allows the child to own the problem, think about solutions, and learn from working through it. Instead of telling, we are now redirecting using simple questions like:

“What is your plan….?”

“How does that make you feel?”

“What can you ask…..?”

“How will you……?”

By asking reflective questions, we act more like a road sign to a destination. We assist in helping the child start the problem-solving process. Coaching the child in this way gives them space to develop critical skills for relationships and life.

This parenting method takes practice and can seem inconvenient at the moment, but I challenge you: Would you rather always be a traffic cop or have children who develop skills, so they do not always need your involvement?

Me? I would rather watch the traffic instead of play in it.

Be well


Photo by Brittany Colette via Unsplash.

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