The practice of judgment gets a bad wrap because it’s often mixed up with the business of being mean, but I’m reclaiming the word for what it is: forming an opinion or making a decision after careful thought.
I’m all for reducing the snap judgments in the world and the snide, unhelpful comments that drag down the reputation of judging, but I fully support being judgmental. In fact, we all should be better at it, and we have a responsibility to raise judgmental children, too.
I want their gut to tell them when something doesn’t sound quite right. I want them to have the desire to investigate the issue further. I want them to have the self-awareness to recognize their own biases and consider other points of view. I want them to have the courage to form a different opinion than their friends (or, gulp, even me) and to know when and how to voice their position in a respectful way. I want them to be judgmental in the best sense of the word.
Having good judgment just means they’re exercising critical thinking and decision making. Honing these skills increases IQ and encourages creativity. Plus, they’re highly valued soft skills in the workplace. I’ve sat through countless performance calibration meetings where managers collectively evaluate the career potential and performance of their teams. Employees who think things through, problem solve, and communicate opinions constructively usually have a leg up on those who don’t.
That’s because these skills take a long time to master. Helping kids practice now means they’ll be better at it as adults, even though their pesky brain development will get in the way of them consistently exercising good judgment for quite some time.
Their formal education is meant to sharpen these skills, but parents need to continue the education at home. The good news is you’re probably doing a lot of this already, and if you’re not, you can. No one is expecting you to hold deep philosophical conversations at the dinner table.
Explain your reasons for saying no to them.
They may not like the answer, but they’ll start to understand that there should be a logical path to a decision, and that there are consequences for actions. Ultimately, this may help them accept the “no” more easily.
Talk through consequences with them.
Your children might call this nagging, but do it anyway. Give them some room to experiment, but keep urging them to think through what might happen in a given situation. Due to their brain development, they’re not doing this naturally (hell, some adults still haven’t mastered this), so we need to help.
For babies and toddlers, when you’re in a patient mood, let them drop their toy on the ground over and over again. Ask, “Where do you think it’ll land this time?” For older kids, when the stakes are higher, keep reminding them of the dangers of drinking and driving, ask them how the kid who is excluded from a party might feel, and what will happen to the team if they don’t show up to practice.
Call out things that don’t make sense when you see them.
Have you ever seen a sixteen ounce bottle of something on sale, but it’s still more expensive than buying two, eight ounce bottles? Explain to your kids why it would be silly to buy the larger size.
Talk about current events in front of your kids.
Preempt what they may be hearing from friends with facts and opinions of your own, delivered in an age-appropriate way, of course. This is different than a lecture. Just talk to your partner or friends when your kids are around.
They’ll pick up on what you’re saying, which will help them understand that the world is much bigger than themselves. Welcome their questions, ask their opinions, and really consider why other people might see things differently than you do.
Ask open-ended questions about their interests.
This helps them work through their train of thought and form independent opinions because they’ll be confident in the subject and less fearful of saying the “wrong” thing. For my three year old, we consider why Prince Hans from “Frozen” seems nice at first.
Make sure they know that just because they have an opinion doesn’t mean it needs to be shared.
Once we’ve created little critical thinking monsters, they may want to tell everyone their opinions all the time. Social media certainly makes it too easy to say nearly anything without repercussions, but this isn’t a great model for how to live in the real world.
The old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all,” comes to mind, but it’s more than that. It’s about teaching restraint, reflecting on whether their input will add value to a discussion, how it may be received, and how best to phrase it. Open up to your kids about when and why you choose to bite your tongue, when you don’t, and why you approached a conversation the way you did.
We’re all judgmental, but it doesn’t mean that we have to cast stones, try to sway people into doing things our way, or even share our opinions at all. It just means that we take the time to think and speak responsibly, and we’re the best role models for our kids. So, judge away, and teach your kids how to do it, too.
Then, when your newly enlightened child comes home from his first semester at college and tells you everything you think you know is wrong, you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done.