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Teach kids to have an open mind

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Teaching kids by example

"Keep an open mind," I say to my kids. Whether it's over a new theatrical production, some item of clothing I've brought home for them, a school subject, Brussels sprouts or just about anything new and different, I do want my kids to have an open mind. I want them to be open to new experiences and new opinions.

Girl looking at brussels sprout

A parent needs to demonstrate having an open mind by example. The thing is, this can be hard while still maintaining the consistency necessary for other elements of parenthood. It can sometimes seem like a contradiction! But it's not. Kids need to see us continuing to learn and sometimes changing our minds with new information; absolute rigidity is seldom beneficial.

In the abstract

Like so many people, I have strong opinions, many of which are based as much on emotion as fact, at least initially. That's completely normal, I think. Digging in my heels and sticking to my initial emotion-based opinions would be easy (I'm stubborn), but I've trained myself over the years to look beyond. Sometimes, after working to gain more information, or looking at an issue from another point of view, my opinion changes. Sometimes it doesn't, but at least I've taken the extra step. At the very least, the practice helps me to define and defend what I believe more confidently -- and to explain my paths around an issue to my kids.

So many issues and events in our world have two, or maybe three or more sides. Being open to new information and new points of view is an excellent mindset. And it's perhaps easier to pull off in the abstract -- for things that don't affect us immediately or directly.

More concrete

But what about in the everyday? How do you demonstrate open-mindedness to your kids on a daily basis? While I don't think I would manufacture reasons to demonstrate this, when it does happen, I'm honest about it.

When, for example, an acquaintance of my son's about whom I had been wary for a couple of years demonstrated some unexpectedly kind behaviors, I was honest about how my mind had been changed-- and how and why I'd been wary in the first place. At a friend's house, when we were served something that I'd always disliked, I tried it again. I still disliked it, but I did try. When my position on an issue of town politics was tested, I did even more research on it and modified my view; I didn't completely change it, but I did adjust. We talked about all these things with the kids, and how new information can change things, or not.

Helping your kids understand what being open minded means can have far-reaching effects. It's an openness of opinion, yes, but it's also an openness to education, to learning. It can affect social, political, home and academic issues. It's demonstrating a willingness to be a part of something bigger.

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