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We have all been at the mercy of a three-year-old’s endless questions regarding “why,” which is the start of showing that a child is beginning to question the world around them.

But when does a child begin to apply logical thinking so that an adult can expect to reason with them fairly?

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Cognitive milestones to look out for

Parents and teachers look out for many milestones at many different ages in children to figure out how their development is going.

  • From early on, we celebrate milestones with babies when they can hold their heads up on their own, laugh, walk and eventually start to speak.
  • This continues with new words being learned and then eventually stringing those words together into a sentence that may or may not be coherent.
  • Around two or three, a child will start to understand basic commands (such as bedtime or dinner) and be able to respond (99% of the time with a scream of “no”)
  • Once a child becomes curious about the endless “why” questions, they show the adult they are trying to understand the world but still do not yet grasp what this information means.
  • At around four or five years old, kids begin to become more logical in their thinking, although kid logic is often heavily confused and
    hilarious to adults, but they still cannot understand the world adequately enough to explain right from wrong.
  • Then, around six or seven, a child’s brain will develop into what has been referred to as “the age of reason,” where moral, emotional, and rational thought is present in a child’s thinking.
  • At this point, reasoning with a child should yield some results as they can begin to appreciate that other people have their feelings and that there is a difference between right and wrong.

When can you tell if children can be reasoned with?

  • When kids start separating reality and fantasy, it is a good indicator that this is happening.
  • Look out for imaginary friends suddenly not appearing at the kitchen table or less and less interest in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.
  • Suddenly questioning imaginary and make-believe characters is due to an increased ability to begin to solve problems and identify certain patterns around them and apply logical thought to questions and answers they receive.
  • Children will also begin to show empathy, which can also manifest in some light lying from children.
  • Noticing when children lose that running “no filter” truth-telling is a very important cognitive step. This shows that they can lie to hide a truth they feel would upset the person if they were honest.
  • They may, at this stage, start lying to protect themselves when they know they’ve done something bad and may be punished for it.
  • It is also worth noting that kids at this stage cannot understand nuances or any subtleties; so if they are not allowed to do something, for instance, have a cookie after 7 pm, they will not understand if an older child or a different child in another family are allowed because it is against the rules which were set for them.

So, should you reason with a child?

Realistically, the question should not be “should”, but “when should”. Children have very important cognitive development timelines that indicate at what age reason can be used.

  • Trying to reason with a child of six or seven is likely very frustrating for an adult, as the child will have a very limited understanding of right and wrong and can often lie to cover themselves when they are potentially in trouble or do not want to upset someone.
  • However, it is not a bad idea to begin having more reasoned talks with your children to help them become more logical in their thinking.
  • Using physical and verbal cues or a physical thing such as a toy to explain your point can help a child as they can associate with seeing and touching an object rather than understanding a logical point.

Children can benefit from a parent’s attempt at reasoning with them by attempting to stimulate this cognitive thinking early on. This can also help them understand nuances and the shades of grey they may encounter in late conversations.