One of the keys to a young person’s self control is metacognition – the ability to recognize one’s own thoughts. For Christian young people, this is also a key to recognizing when they are being tempted to sin. Fortunately, metacognition is a skill that can improve with practice. Even better, there are fun ways to give your kids practice in recognizing their own thoughts.
- First thought game. This is a game we normally associate with psychology, but we aren’t using it in the same way. Throw out random words and have your kids say the first thing that pops into their minds. You won’t be analyzing their responses at all. What you want them to do is develop an awareness that outside stimuli can trigger thoughts in their minds and that they can become aware of what those thoughts may be.
- Jot it down. Throw out a “wild” idea. Example: “What if we went on a year long vacation anywhere in the world?” Instead of giving you a verbal answer, have your kids jot down everything they are thinking. Once again, the answers aren’t important (unless you intend to actually do it). Jotting down words, phrases or ideas will make them more aware of their thought process than merely verbalizing them. Don’t forget them to capture thoughts like, “Is she serious?” “What about school?” and other similar thoughts.
- Ask directly. Throw out a controversial topic and ask what they think about the subject. Try to choose one that won’t upset you if you disagree with their responses. To take it to the next level, see if they can tell you why they think the way they do about the topic.
- “What if”. Trying to ask kids what they were thinking right before they made a poor choice rarely results in a concrete answer. Although that’s a great goal to have, try focusing on having them be aware of the process of thinking of other options. Encourage them to stop whenever they have a choice to make and ask themselves, “What if I did something other than what I am getting ready to do?” It will take verbally practicing with you first quite a bit before they can do it naturally in real time, but mastering this may help point them towards better options and intentional thinking rather than merely reacting to a choice without awareness of any cognition.
- Question hour. Encourage your kids to ask their questions. If you aren’t available when a question comes to mind, train them to jot it down to ask you later. Becoming aware of the questions they have is one part of recognizing their own thoughts. You don’t literally have to spend an hour answering questions, but you should make time regularly for answering them. Remember, there is no shame in having to look up answers you don’t know or have forgotten. It’s a great way to teach them how to find reliable answers for themselves as they grow older.
- “Voices” in their thoughts. Ask your kids what “voices” they hear in their heads when they want to do something. Younger children won’t be able to do this, but older ones should be able to tell you they “hear” grandma’s favorite expression or the mean thing a coach said to them. Knowing the “tapes” they have already ingrained can be helpful to you as you parent them away from any unnecessarily toxic thoughts they have allowed others to place in their metacognition collection. It will also let you know if some of the positive “tapes” you have tried to install in their brains have taken root.
Helping your kids with their metacognition skills takes time. It can really help improve their self control and avoiding sin when tempted. It’s worth making the time to help them recognize their own thoughts.