Rational vs Emotional Thinkers – can we help our children learn how to think?

How we think is really quite interesting. It affects how we respond, how we interact and even how other people view us. Do you know what type of thinker you are? Are you a literal thinker? Or a rational thinker? Or an emotional thinker?

I have a literal thinker at home. I have a video on this, on living with literal thinkers. It can make life interesting. I have to watch what I say and how I say it multiple times a day because it can be misconstrued. 

I also have a more emotional thinker.  This can also be hard for me as I am more of a rational thinker. 


An emotional thinker is someone who will make decisions based on their gut feelings. They will listen to their heart over their mind. They will also generally accept what they find most appealing and comfortable as truth. This can get them into trouble. 

I have seen this with my daughter. She will respond and react according to her emotions and this ends up hurting someone else, or she finds herself having to deal with consequences that she doesn’t like. 

There are times when emotional thinking is helpful, like in emergency situations. For example, an attacking dog, or a poisonous snake near your foot. You need to act fast so an immediate response is necessary. By relying on that gut feeling you can save your life. 

A key thing for emotional thinkers is that you are reacting without knowing all of the details, without knowing why. And it is often a quick reaction.

Emotions are important. They are what make us human. But are emotions the best for decision making?

girl in red sweater thinking


The rational thinker tries to examine and use logic to arrive at the truth. You will find them asking the reason for something first, creating pros and cons lists, and they can get the information they need quickly (they know where to look). 

A rational thinker is less likely to act on a whim. Emotions and gut feelings are put aside. 

This is more me. I find myself wanting to know the reasons why before I take on a project or task. I need to know the vision or the reasoning behind something. Without it I find myself struggling to move forward. I like to plan things out and I love a good pros and cons list. Sometimes this causes me to spiral into overthinking. It is not always the best for me or my family. 

Sometimes, being a rational person can be beneficial rather than going with the gut. Being objective can be good. 

Here’s one way to think of the difference between the two: 

In the situation where you get hurt by someone, the emotional thinker is going to quickly land on “How can I hurt them back?” while the rational thinker will ask “Why did they do that? What was the reason why?”


There are times that I find myself being both. When I am emotionally invested in something I will find myself weighing up how I feel about it and my gut reactions with the rational side of me. 

You can be both. A person who is both a rational and emotional thinker is known as a creative thinker. They will think outside the box and find new ways to solve problems. 

little boy thinking


You can develop these types of thinking. Children especially need to learn how to regulate and balance their thinking.

If your child is making decisions based on their gut and on pure emotion, then you need to spend time with them learning how to stop and take the time to think through the situation. When they get stuck in the emotions, you need to help them see the rational side, to look at facts and the reason behind things. 

If your child is stuck on rational thinking then they can get too rigid and this can lead to frustrations arising at school, when playing, and at home. An example of rigidity is always having to do something the same way every time, like always having to sit in the same seat at the table. When this rigidity happens or they are stuck in rational thinking, you need to help them get in touch with their feelings and why they are feeling the way they do. 


Children learn to think naturally as they explore the world, as they play and as they interact with adults. We can help our children develop their thinking skills. I have been working with my girls on critical thinking skills since they were little. 

How can we help our children build a strong foundation in thinking?

  • Provide opportunities for play
  • Don’t intervene immediately
  • Pause and wait
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Talk through possible hypotheses
  • Encourage critical thinking in new and different ways

When we are living with emotional thinkers, we can be dealing with major tantrums. This can be tough. I know that when my daughter is stuck in her big emotions it is so hard to calm her down. When we are faced with these situations, we have to take care of ourselves too. Maybe that means walking away for a spell. Maybe that means tapping out and letting your husband/wife/partner take a turn. Rational thinking is NOT going to happen while the emotional is supercharged. 

When we are living with rational thinkers, we will find moments of them being “stuck” and it can be hard for our children to break out of that. When that happens we need to connect them to their emotions – help them to see how they are reacting and how it makes them feel. Whether or not they are an emotional or rational thinker.

Remember that our children are not born being able to regulate their feelings or thoughts. It is up to us to help them, train them, and allow opportunities for development. And we get to do that for us too.  

This webpage has a great chart showing the difference between rational and emotional thinking.

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1 Comment

  • June 2, 2023 at 7:03 PM

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