How to Encourage Lateral Thinking in Your Child

Teaching your child the concept of lateral thinking is a great way to help her develop problem-solving skills or think in an innovative way. Here’s how you can do it.

By Mina Dilip

How to Encourage Lateral Thinking in Your Child

Our education system trains children to memorise and reproduce information. As a result, our children end up cultivating the habit of rote learning and lose out on developing skills like researching or analysing information. However, as parents, we can proactively support and encourage our children to develop skills and resources that can enrich their life. One such skill is lateral thinking.

What is lateral thinking?

The technique of ‘Lateral Thinking’ was invented by Edward de Bono in 1967. The concept has been explained in detail on his website edwdebono.com. According to him, “Lateral Thinking is a set of processes that provides a deliberate, systematic way of thinking creatively that results in innovative thinking in a repeatable manner.” He further says, “A person uses lateral thinking to move from one known idea to creating new ideas.”

You might wonder how a concept that was proposed way back in 1967 would be relevant in today’s times. Be assured, lateral thinking is a skill that can be very useful for your children.

How it helps

Lateral thinking is directly connected to creativity. As a result, a child who can think laterally is often far more creative and imaginative than his counterparts.

Problem-solving

Most real-world problems do not have simple, direct solutions. This is where thinking out of the box can come in handy. Lateral thinking helps to define the problem in different ways and, thus, come up with a wider set of solutions to choose from.

Improving efficiency

Most technological advances and spikes in efficiency have been achieved because of creative thinking. Lateral thinking encourages individuals to come up with new and better ways of doing the same things.

Innovations and discoveries

Lateral thinking is not just about improving what is already there. In fact, it encourages thinking from a completely different perspective, and create something that is new and valuable.

Ways to Encourage Lateral Thinking in Children

Although there are many ways to encourage lateral thinking in your child, these four tips may prove to be very useful. To make it easier to remember them, I have coined the acronym ‘BITE’. So, go on, and take a ‘bite’ of this!

1. Brainstorm regularly

It is a great idea to introduce a family tradition of brainstorming at regular intervals, say once a week. Begin by picking up a random object, and ask your children to list 20 different, creative ways in which the object can be used. Once they are done, add your own ideas. For example, if you happen to find a roll of masking tape, brainstorm on what possible uses it might be put to. You will be surprised by some of the creative ideas that come up. Doing this regularly for some time will enhance your children’s ability to look beyond the obvious, to search their minds for the most bizarre possibilities, and to come up with reasonable ideas rooted in reality.

2. Invite them to solve puzzles and brain-teasers

Most children love intellectual challenges. So, go searching and find some age-appropriate puzzles and brain-teasers for your children to solve. This way, you can make sure that they are well on their way to developing the art of lateral thinking.

3. Teach them to tune in to their senses

Sensorial inputs are a big part of learning to think critically and creatively. But, we often take our senses for granted. It is the same with our children. To reverse the negative effects of neglecting the senses, encourage your children to focus more on them. One simple game which can help your children do this is the 5-4-3-2-1 game. This game can be played by children of all age-groups. Here’s how your children should play the game:

  • Look around and name five objects that they see.
  • Reach out and touch any four objects around them.
  • Close their eyes, and identify any three sounds that they hear.
  • Use their sense of smell to pick out two different scents around them.
  • Dip their finger in some snack, place it on the tip of their tongue and taste one flavour.

This exercise increases mindfulness, widens perspective, and enhances creativity, which, in turn, helps to develop lateral thinking skills.

4. Encourage them to ask questions

Being curious is the best part of childhood. By asking questions, children not only learn answers to those questions, but also discover that the same question may have so many different answers. In effect, they learn that the same problem might have many different solutions, and this is the cornerstone of lateral thinking.

Lateral thinking encourages children to become independent problem-solvers and creative innovators. So, are you ready to start working with your own lateral-thinkers-in-the-making?


Mina Dilip, Child Psychologist, Trainee Practitioner in Therapeutic Play Skills (PTUK)