There are a world of articles and essays and research findings that show that it pays to reason with our wee-er brethren — rather than, say, lower the boom on them and threaten them with punishment (much less carry out the threat, which happens all too often, barbarically).
But even here, the author presents an unhelpful and unimaginative dichotomy — we reason with them or we try to intimidate the hell out of kids. As if there are only two approaches.
But what this author, as virtually all others, fails to point out is that there are many types and ways of reasoning. It’s not just, as the author suggest, that reasoning is hard work for adults and that there’s a payoff.
I’m sorry to break the news to my fellow adults — and this applies to me as much as it does to anyone: but fact is, it’s not, as even the most progressive parents and pioneering social scientists and newspaper columnists assert, simply that we should reason with kids.
The problem isn’t that kids don’t reason well at the outset of their mortal moment. The problem is that adults don’t reason well.
Kids are wired to reason. They do so with great imagination and passion and enthusiasm and discursiveness and in a dazzling array of colors. In a way that puts most of us adults to shame.
Take my 3-year-old Cybele. The other evening, Ceci (a.k.a. Mommy) and I went out on a date. Cybele wasn’t a happy camper about this.
Mommy assured her that Cybele that we would be back home to help put her to sleep right after she had her bath — usually takes place like clockwork, around 8 pm.
As soon as the babysitter arrived, Cybele told her that she wanted her bath right that instant.
We asked her why.
“So Mommy will be back right after I finish my bath,” she replied.
Which would mean that we’d have a date for about 10 minutes.
Cybele reasoned, correctly by her lights, that if she had her bath now, then Mommy would be on hand to put her to sleep (which would take hours, since it would only be around 5 pm).
Given the information her beloved Mommy, my beloved wife, told her, this was as perfectly sound reasoning on Cybele’s part as it gets.
She ‘out-reasoned’ us. A three year old.
Happens all the time.
The lesson: when we reason with children, we have to realize they can outwit us — not intentionally, but because they are more adept at it — at every turn if we don’t think as expansively as they do.
In The Philosophy of Childing, I attribute kids’ unrivaled capacity at reasoning in large part to “attention surplus disorder”:
…one big reason children excel in certain ways is because they have a blend of cerebral over- and under-development. While they have an undeveloped prefrontal lobe, they possess an inordinately active occipital cortex (in the back of the brain) and parietal cortex. This enables their beautifully overcharged minds to do everything from see the world in more holistic ways, to adjust and adapt more readily to unforeseen events and new information. It’s the wellspring for their unique approaches to reasoning, imagining, and empathizing. It makes them uninhibited, open to experimentation. These qualities in kids endow them with what one might call “attention surplus order,” qualities which might be of immense help to their older counterparts in charting new strategies for everything from personal growth to problem-solving of many sorts.
What do these exceptional capacities of everyday kids make of us adults? Nincompoops in comparison? Or just different, with different strengths, and weaknesses?
When it comes to reasoning powers, we adults do reason differently, and worse, our minds all too often overly cluttered with Aristotelian-inspired categories and black-and-white thinking. So we no longer shine with our reasoning skills. One way to recapture our reasoning abilities is not so much to emulate kids, but to recapture our abilities at empathic reasoning, which comes second nature to kids.
By this, I mean that we need to take pause before we “reason” with kids, and ask ourselves how would a child reason about ‘x’ or ‘y’ — and proceed from there, not so much with caution but with compassion. They’ll still out-reason us, more often than not, but at least now we’ll be more appreciative of it than ever, and learn from them, our betters, how to reason better.
There is a well-known Biblical passage that goes: “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”
How do children speak and think and reason? Is it different from the way adults go about it? I note in The Philosophy of Childing:
John Locke (1632–1704) maintained that children have inborn reasoning capacities, albeit in unpolished form. “We are born free, as we are born rational,” he posits in his Second Treatise of Civil Government. But he qualifies this: “Not that we have actually the exercise of either. Age that brings one, brings with it the other too.” In his view, our reasoning capacities can only improve with “the improvement of growth and age,” and only then when adults “supply the defects of this imperfect state.”
To this end, Locke enjoins parents to “reason with children.”
What if the adult “suppliers” are in an imperfect state in their own reasoning capacities? What if, when reasoning with children, we adults operate from the premise that our young counterparts can help us become more skillful and empathetic and even imaginative practitioners of this art and science all rolled into one?
And once we adults do this on a widespread scale, my hunch is that the number of cases of attention deficit disorder among our youngest will dramatically plummet, because we adults will no longer bore them to tears with our unimaginative approaches to education, governance, parenting, and….reasoning.