Parents can benefit from occasionally reminding themselves that their children are not “mini-adults,” Linda Inmon, Extension specialist for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said.
Though children sometimes seem capable of the same level of reasoning as adults, their brains are not yet fully formed.
“Generally, a person’s brain is not fully developed until his or her mid-20s,” she said. “Therefore, children do not have the ability to perform complex reasoning, and they don’t always know how to handle a challenging situation or how to communicate their feelings.”
Inmon said children are not able to engage in the same level of rational decision-making processes as adults. Without comprehending the consequences of their actions, children are far more likely to engage in risky and impulsive behavior. They need guidance from adults to learn the essential skill of decision making.
“If children question your instructions, they are not trying to defy you, but rather want to gain a greater understanding of how a rule fits into the bigger picture,” she said. “This gives adults the opportunity to teach and explain the reasons and context behind a rule.”
When adults take the time to explain rules, they provide children with the tools necessary to build their own moral framework. They begin to fill in the blanks between the rules they know and the ones they don’t. This habit is the foundation of the learning process.
“Children will develop a more open attitude and not become defensive when we parents and teachers show them that we are willing to support them with love and kindness,” Inmon said. “When adults help young students overcome difficulties, the children are more motivated to learn and will in turn reach out to other children facing challenges.”
Inmon said it is the responsibility of adults and educators to continuously provide meaningful learning opportunities for children. This will help them gradually accumulate knowledge until their brains are capable of higher-order thinking.
Contrary to popular belief, when left free to pursue their own interests, children will learn to read and do arithmetic and even go on to college – just not on the schedule that adult educators prefer, she said. On the other hand, adults who treat children as “mini-adults” often fail to allow them to take advantage of the cognitive skills they already possess.
“Children naturally want to please adults and follow in the footsteps of their mentors,” Inmon said. “We have to remember to allow children to accomplish this within their own timeframe as we provide guidance along the way.”
Parents can actively help their children develop higher-order thinking skills by:
• Encouraging them to ask questions using the words “how” and “why.”
• Helping them make connections between the lessons they learn at home or school and other life experiences.
• Assisting them make inferences and come to conclusions about things they see or hear. For example, if they see someone putting on a sweater and coat to go outside, they can infer that the weather is cold. If they hear a firetruck siren, they can assume firefighters are on their way to put out a fire.
• Asking them to draw graphs or mind maps. If a teenager wants a car, he or she can map out the things that must be done to obtain the car.
• Encouraging them to think “outside the box” and imagine different possible solutions to problems.
“Children need our understanding and support to help them develop a compass to navigate life with,” Inmon said. “As we recognize and respond to each child’s unique personality, we create happier, healthier children who function well in society throughout their lives.”
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without discrimination.
— Will Hehemann is a writer/editor with the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.