Why is your child so unreasonable?

Kids! They’re so irrational! Unreasonable! They’re…well, kids.

Toddlers are usually not able to understand that the ideas in your head are different than the ideas in their head. Learning that other people don’t know/see/hear/think all the things you do is called developing a “theory of mind.” Before this, kids think everyone knows what they know. If you hide a toy with Joey while Sarah is out of the room, and invite Sarah back in, 3-year-old Joey will not understand how Sarah can not know where the toy is. Joey is still developing a theory of mind. You will know when your child has developed a theory of mind when he or she tries to lie. This usually happens relatively late in the preschool years. Until then, if they know what they want (and are regrettably incoherent) and you fail to understand and comply, they can only reasonably assume (from their perspective) that you are being mean on purpose. They know what they want – how can you NOT?

As children develop a theory of mind, they also develop other signs of brain maturity. One is the ability to “conserve.” This doesn’t mean the Greenpeace/Sierra Club type of conserving. It means that they understand that, whether you break it into four pieces or leave it whole, it’s the same puny graham cracker for snack. The golden days of breaking it in two so they think that there is now “more” are behind you.

As they develop their theory of mind and the ability to understand a bit more about the physical world, they stay very literal for a while, or what cognitive scientists call “concrete.” They are in the real world. This makes it difficult for them to consider multiple aspects of a problem at one time, and makes abstract concepts – like algebra – just about impossible. They might fixate on one aspect of a project or task despite your efforts to get them to consider other aspects. They might memorize things to make you happy, but until their brain reaches a certain point of development (and sooner doesn’t necessarily mean smarter, it just means sooner) algebra and other abstract concepts don’t really “click.”

While, for example, a 15-year-old can be on a debating team and argue in favor of a point with which he or she personally disagrees, a bright 7 or 8 year old would have a great deal of difficulty doing so. This is a function of brain maturation – a process that continues into the early 20s.

So…that’s why your child seems so unreasonable. It’s because their brain is a child’s brain – growing, amazing, absorbing information at lightning speeds. It’s our job to meet them where they are and go with them as they grow.


Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.


A little out of sync…

Intellectually gifted children are a challenge for grownups.

Their ability to learn and apply information may be far ahead of their peers but their emotional and motor skills may be completely normal (read: average and right on schedule). So your highly gifted six-year-old, who can visualize Johnny Depp’s pirate ship but whose little fingers can only manage 5-year-old’s motor skills, will be angry and frustrated to the point of tears over a boat that looks perfectly fine to you. Your gifted twelve year old will, with the emotional fragility of a middle-school-aged heart, grapple with the existential questions peers more often face in college.

This kind of asynchronous development is hard for the child, too…and will continue to be so, until adulthood. It’s easier for adults to find a few intellectual peers with whom to deeply connect. The more gifted the child, the harder this will be, simply because of the mathematical odds. Intellectual giftedness comprises only 2% of the population. Highly gifted persons are less than 1/1000 of the population; for them, the odds of finding someone on par, or, an even happier event, encountering someone sharper in intellectual terms, is slim. It’s important for grownups to be aware of the interior struggles gifted children face and provide opportunities for support, encouragement and sometimes some careful education on why they feel so different from other kids.

Add to this gifted kids’ tendency to need a little less sleep, be a little more bouncy, be in a hurry to learn and do, ask a lot of questions…or, conversely, be very quiet, observant and introverted, and the challenge for parents and teachers becomes clear.

Interested in learning more? There are a lot of resources out there: American Mensa and SENG are two excellent sources of information and support for the gifted child (or grownup) in your life.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.