Remembering How Kids Think

Up until very recently (the past 100 years or so) very little thought was given to how children think, feel and perceive the world. “Children’s literature” for instance is largely a 20th Century phenomenon. Grimm’s Fairy Tales were not written for kids but for adults. Indeed, the late 19th Century is where children’s literature first takes root and blossoms in the 20th.

Children were, until very recently in history, regarded and treated as miniature adults. Imagine kids, for example manning the guns on the USS Missouri or going into combat in Afghanistan. This was a common occurrence in the Civil War, when beardless boys as young as nine fought in some of the most horrible warfare in history. It’s amazing the human race has survived as long as it did! (And it’s worth mentioning, by the way, that these conditions still exist in many parts of the world.)

But rather than dwell on these grim realities, I want to bring the discussion closer to home. Namely, I want to ask how often we remember that children, not to put too fine a point on it, aren’t like us. They don’t think like we do.

Humorous case in point: my six year old Peter came to me the other day with a brilliant idea. Wouldn’t it be cool if whatever you drew came to life. Then, if you were hungry you could draw food and eat it. Or if you were thirsty, you could draw something to drink and drink it. And if you needed money?

You could draw teeth.


Yes. And then you could put them under your pillow and the Tooth Fairy would give you money.

A curious way of doing business, but not too far removed from my five year old, Sean’s, outlook. He simply sees no point to money. It’s not useful like a toy and it doesn’t taste good so why bother? The really important things are much closer to the things Jesus seems to think important too. He doesn’t want stuff from me: he wants me: “Can you play, Daddy?” I have to fight the daily inundation of insistence from the world that my work or the bills or something else is more important than that game.

My kids remind me of the things that I used to think as well. I remember, for instance, firmly believing that there were still dinosaurs alive on the Skagit River in Washington State. You must understand, that wasn’t a fear or a hope. It was a conviction, tinged with the most delightful sense of excitement. I firmly believed, whenever my Dad took our boat through one of the sloughs that cut through the mud flats near the mouth of the river that it was just a matter of luck and timing before I would catch sight of a Tyrannosaurus or Brontosaurus stomping across the primeval and hissing grasses of that endlessly wind-swept place. That made fishing trips memorable occasions, a thing for which I am still grateful 38 years later.

That brings me to my next point: kids are thinking things you’ll never guess. My Dad never knew my ideas about dinosaurs at the Skagit. I never talked about it. I simply held my faith deep in my heart and lived in hope of catching a glimpse of them.

I also was fascinated with a “Verihydripples” as a kid. For weeks during November and December 1961, I kept asking for one. My mom was stumped. “A Verihydripples?” she’d ask, “What’s that?”

“That’s what I want for Christmas.” But when she asked for details all I could say was it was a Verihydripples.

It was maddening really. She’d be in other room and she’d hear me cry “Mom! Mom! Look! A Verihydripples!” But when she got there the TV would be showing nothing but Captain Kangaroo. She was beside herself.

Finally, the day came when light dawned though: She caught a commercial for a little mechanical tiger that walked: “So realistic its very hide ripples!”

Why do I mention these oddities? Because, as parents we need to recall that our kid’s minds are always working–and working in very weird ways. The tape recorder is always on, but the mike has a short and things we and others say don’t always get recorded in the way we hoped. It’s our job as parents to make the recordings as clear as possible. The trick to that is listening as much as talking.

Obvious, but often overlooked.


Follow Mark on Twitter and Facebook

Get updates by email