Reflective Habits of Mind—and Kids

Reflective Habits of Mind—and Kids

Reflective Habits of Mind—and Kids

Reflective habits of mind matter for intelligence, creativity, and personal growth. Here’s why, as well as what these habits look like, and how to help children develop them.

“Being able to think more reflectively, broadly, and astutely are prerequisites for high-level proficiency.”  ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids – p.25

Reflective habits of mind involve learning to process information and experiences, and to think carefully before reacting to them. This may sound easy enough. Simply pause and think, before taking action, right? 

However, it’s actually more complicated than that. Especially for children. 

What follows is helpful information, and also 5 questions—for reflection. 


“Reflective habits of mind provide a starting point for the development of character and wisdom.” Beyond Intelligence - p. 236

The brain grows and strengthens as a result of experience. For children, experience often involves playing, skill-building, interacting with others, consolidating knowledge, and engaging in multisensory activities. (Ideally, this occurs with encouragement, and embodies a sense of well-being.) And, as children mature and progress across different domains, their ability to communicate, be resilient, and act responsibly all demand thought. 

Reflection contributes to a child’s intelligence, achievement, and creativity. Reflection may take many forms, such as mindfulness, review, critical analysis, meditation, or letting ideas percolate. Physical activity (such as nature walks, biking, gardening), and various forms of creative expression (such as art, music, craftsmanship) can springboard reflection. However, regardless of how one might choose to reflect, or how young (or old) one might be, careful consideration can be enabling. It provides more fulsome perspectives, it serves as a precautionary safety measure, and it opens avenues for responding, learning, and creating. 

Individuals who take the time to think about their actions, attitudes, words, and feelings—and the potential consequences (such as outcomes, implications and impact)—are better able to make informed decisions. Moreover, they get to know themselves better. They can more fully appreciate their preferences, capacities, beliefs, and possibilities for living more thoughtful lives. Yes, we live in a busy and hectic world, but parents and teachers can help kids learn to find the calm, maintain balance, embrace downtime, and be reflective. All of this is important for their mental, physical, and spiritual health.


“Change, progress, and innovation are all dependent upon flexibility of thought. Thinking also underlies the basic elements of every day communication: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. It is the engine of learning.”  ~ Thinking Skills in The Encyclopedia of Giftedness, Creativity and Talent, Vol. 2, pp.898-899.  

Thinking is used for inquiry, problem solving, creative expression, critiquing, reasoning, and so on—depending upon the situation, and context (home, school, or elsewhere). There are basic thinking skills such as remembering, comprehending, and actively listening and processing information. And, there are higher-order thinking skills such as interpreting, deeply questioning, constructing, and then evaluating new knowledge. These different kinds of skills may be applied to school-based activities, including practice, technological endeavors, drawing conclusions, collaborative effort, and research and resource gathering. And all of these lead to enhanced learning! 

Adults can teach children to think convergently (narrowing possibilities); divergently (having lots of ideas or figuring out many possible solutions to problems); critically (thinking in a disciplined and constructive fashion); and creatively (stretching limits in innovative and imaginative ways). Reflection enables kids to tap into their curiosity, overcome difficulties, adapt to change, link their ideas to experiences, and explore and also extend the boundaries of their world.  Reflection can also be soothing, helping children connect their minds and bodies, and having a positive effect on their feelings and behavior. 


“Parents have an important role in shaping their children’s habits, attitudes, learning opportunities, and coping skills, but the rest is up to the child and to circumstance.”   ~ Beyond Intelligence - p. 237

Parents who want to help children develop reflective habits can ask themselves the following 5 questions:

1.  How do I model the value of reflective practice?

2.  In what ways do I ensure that my child has adequate time and opportunity to engage in reflection?

3. In what ways do I encourage my child to explore his/her feelings, concerns, challenges, biases, aspirations, and achievements?

4.  Reflection may lead to fretting, questions, confusion, consternation, or other kinds of responses. How available am I to help my child focus on the positives, and deal with issues if/when they arise? 

5.  What skills can I help my child build so as to develop, hone, and use meaningful thinking processes? For example, in what ways do I encourage my child to weigh alternatives, draw comparisons, synthesize ideas, and look at alternative and changing perspectives?


“Being reflective helps to connect actions with hopes and dreams. This is true for parents as they help children find their way, but it’s also true for kids as they learn the value of thinking things through.”  ~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids - p. 125

It’s essential for children to recognize that their own thinking is important—but that their thoughts are not the only ones that matter. Thinking involves gaining perspective, and parents can encourage kids to be openminded about the thoughts of others, and to be patient, receptive, gracious, and supportive. It is never too soon for them to nurture reciprocity and respect for ideas that may be different from their own. By learning to reflect generously, regularly, and astutely, kids can foster their intelligence and enrich their lives. 



Joanne Foster’s newest book is ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids: Hundreds of Ways to Inspire Your Child (summer, 2019). Readers can find additional information about optimal child development by checking out Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (by Dona Matthews andJoanne Foster). Dr. Foster also wrote Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate (recipient of the Independent Book Publishers’ Association’s 2018 Silver Benjamin Franklin Award), and its predecessor Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. To learn more about these books, and for access to a wide range of articles and links, please go to www.joannefoster.caInformation about professional development workshops and speaker sessions with Dr. Foster can also be found at this website.

See the assortment of material published by Great Potential Press for excellent resources on supporting and encouraging creativity and gifted/high-level development. 

For more on thought as it relates to decision making processes, have a look at the article Empowering Kids to Make Decisions in The Creativity Post

With respect to the question, “How do I model reflective practice?” noted above, it’s important to remember that parent’s actions (including behavior, mood-management, self-care, and reflective habits of mind) have a bearing upon children. In Happy Parents, Happy Kids, author Ann Douglas writes about the joys and struggles of parenting, and how to maintain well-being. Chapter 5 is aptly entitled “The Thinking Part of Parenting.” 

The segment on Thinking Skills in The Encyclopedia of Giftedness, Creativity and Talent is by Joanne Foster. Other sections by Dr. Foster in this comprehensive two volume resource (Sage Publications) include the following topics: Parental Attitudes; Gifted Education in Canada; Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation; Teacher Training; and Extracurricular Activities. 

In her new book Beyond Behaviors, Mona Delahooke offers practical strategies to help children develop greater self-awareness. She shares mindfulness and breathing exercises, practical suggestions for coping and de-escalation, and other means of self-support for children—and for their parents and caregivers, too.  

Check out how thinking can trigger creativity as discussed in Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (2015) by Scott Barry Kaufman, and Carolyn Gregoire. 

Marilyn Price-Mitchell writes about helping kids become better thinkers in her article Critical Thinking: How to Grow Your Child’s Mind  on the Roots of Action website.

The impressive scope of Nancy Kopman’s work with children can be seen on her Music with a Purpose website. She composes music, and then draws upon her songs to help children think, connect with their feelings, and reflect upon the many wonders (and challenges) of the world around them.  

Edward deBono’s six part CORT Thinking Skills Program offers interesting approaches designed to broaden children’s thinking, and encourage them to organize thoughts, interact, become more creative, and pay attention to information and feelings. This comprehensive program consists of 60 lessons with practical strategies for use with kids from elementary school upward. There are different versions of CORT for use by parents and teachers. The emphasis is on lateral thinking (that is, on changing the way people look at things), and CORT has been used in schools around the world for decades. 

There are many kinds of extra-curricular programs that can empower kids to gain self-awareness, helping them learn to reflect upon and appreciate their strengths; harness their abilities; manage stressors; and cope with issues. One such program is Kids Now (in Canada), which has provided free after-school mentoring sessions to thousands of pre-adolescent students over the past twenty years. 

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