The Way Children Think


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


In conversations with children it is not uncommon for the adult to make the assumption that small children are looking at the world in the same way adults do. But since children lack the experience that adults possess, this is not the case. They see things in a black and white manner and take things quite literally. Let me illustrate this point by repeating some quotes that young children have made that shows they do not understand the subtleties of the adult world and the language we use.

A four year old was visiting his cousin who was receiving lessons from a reading tutor. The four year old went with his cousin to one of the sessions. A short time after he arrived he questioned the teacher asking her if she was really the tooter. “Why yes I am,” replied the tutor.  “You don’t smell like one,” he said.

In a similar situation a teacher always said to the little ones as they left, “Goodbye Sweet Pea.” This was a common utterance of the teacher until one day a small girl responded by saying back to him, “Goodbye Sweet Poop.”

The thinking of children is very literal and honest. When we visited Niagara Falls many years ago, a daughter, who was three sat in awe as she saw the massive amount of water that was plummeting over the falls. She looked up at us and said, “Dad, look at the Mountain Fountain.”

Even in simple utterances, there is a wisdom that children have that we as adults need to tap into We can learn much from them if we just listen and observe. A parent related this example to me. She said, “When my son was about three years old he came to me and wanted to know what “thinking” meant? I could not, for the life of me, figure out a way to explain it so that he would understand. Unfortunately this upset him and he stormed off to his room. About ten minutes had passed when he opened his door, came to me and said; “Mom, I know what thinking is. It’s when your brain keeps talking but your mouth stays shut.” I just looked at him in complete amazement and said; “You’re absolutely right. That is exactly what thinking is.” She indicated that she later told her husband that it’s pretty bad when a three year old can explain it better than the parent can.

Children have such an honest outlook on life that it is difficult to imagine that each of us once had the same honest view. Here are some children’s utterances that you may enjoy. “No matter how hard you try, you can’t baptize a cat.” “You cannot trust a dog to watch your food.” “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.” Here is a cute one. A new neighbor asked a little girl if she had any brothers of sisters. She replied, “No, I’m the lonely child.”

Besides being cute, what does this mean to those of us who are parents when it comes to helping the child? Here are some points to consider:

1.    As you work with your child keep in mind that their world is different than yours. Watch and listen closely so that you can figure out where they are right now in life.

2.    Avoid adult type thinking and take the time necessary to really hear and communicate with your child.

3.    Be patient with your child. Recognize that they just are not yet ready to see thing that you see. The child cannot think differently to meet your needs, but you can think differently.

4.    Enjoy your children as they grow. (Record some of their utterances in a journal or notebook to share with your child later in life.)

5.    Be clear and precise when you give directions. Do not assume the child understands totally the directions you gave.

6.    Monitor your child. Their understanding or lack of understanding can place them in harm’s way. Be aware of their activities.

Because children view the world in such a black and white manner, it is important to keep life consistent and predictable for them. As they put things together, if you pay attention, you will be given the privilege of watching a miracle of progression occur as your child grows into adulthood.