Listen to your mom and dad. Do as your teacher says. So much of life for young children in our culture involves respecting authority and following established norms in the classroom and on the playground, that we can miss out on giving them a necessary skill: independent thought.

Fortunately for us as parents, it’s one that can be readily learned and is enjoyable to teach. Here are some ways you can instruct your child to think for himself.

kids think for themselves 1Encourage questions. Children are naturally curious. Just think of a three- or four-year-old’s favorite word: Why. At times it can be irritatingly incessant. But rather than shut down their inquisitiveness, let it flow. It demonstrates that you believe in the importance of free thinking.

Ask questions. When your child is faced with a decision, don’t always suggest answers. Instead, ask them what options they have. Then continue probing about your child’s reasons for or against each one. Help them come to their own conclusion.

Affirm independent choices. Start young. When your child picks mismatched clothes for school, don’t make him change. When he would prefer not to play with a certain friend, accept his preference. This doesn’t mean you can’t delve into the reasons, just do so respectfully.

Foster self-confidence. Many times children are afraid of diverging from the majority because they don’t want to be wrong. They are afraid of failing or appearing unknowledgeable. A foundation of self-confidence acts as a bolster against this fear.

Get their opinion. Occasionally, when faced with your own decisions or family decisions, ask your child for input and suggestions. Seeking their opinion shows them that you value their thoughts. It allows them to experience making a contribution by being themselves and thinking independently.

And don’t be afraid of letting your child follow the crowd once in a while. A sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself is important.

Above all, model independent thinking. Rather than shielding your kids from your opinions, share your ideas during family conversations; this teaches kids how to reason and express themselves respectfully.