Explanation of the Ways That Children Think

By Morgan Rush
Children revise their understanding of the world based on new information.
Children revise their understanding of the world based on new information.

Children think differently than adults, and they also think differently than children of different ages than their own, according to the 2009 Psychology Today article, “How Much Alike Are Children and Adults?” By learning some of the different ways children think, parents might find better explanations for their children’s behaviors. For example, in earlier stages of development children's thinking focuses on whether situations or people should be trusted or distrusted.


Children pair thinking with tactile experiences, according to the Purdue University Extension article, “How Children Think and Learn.” Parents might observe their children making a mess in the kitchen with graham crackers and milk and not understand that it’s part of their thinking process. For example, children might sink the graham cracker into the milk and notice that it expands and dissolves. When children ask to have their graham cracker served already broken into segments, or served whole, they have thought about how the crackers are pieced together and considered their own personal preferences.


The world is a busy place, and children are constantly inundated with external distractions. People talking, strange noises, shifts in the weather, animals and other occurrences can make it difficult for children to isolate and concentrate on a particular thought, according to the article, “How Do Children Think and Learn?” Playing sports can help children think through various actions and decide how to best complete them. For example, when playing basketball, a child might focus on two tasks at the same time: dribbling the ball, and looking for a teammate in order to pass the ball. Sifting through these thought processes requires concentration and practice.


In the 2012 Popular Science article, “Why Do Children Think Covering Their Eyes Makes Them Invisible?” journalist Clay Dillow states that children make a distinction between body and “self.” Researchers interested in the common childhood belief that covering your eyes makes you invisible found that children knew that their bodies were not invisible when covering their eyes; still, they felt that their inner “selves” were not visible. It might be that children think that their selves are invisible unless direct eye contact is made between themselves and another person.

Adult Comparison

Children and adults both learn about the world by making conceptual inferences, according to the 2006 article “Do Children and Adults Learn Differently?” These inferences aren’t set in stone, though. As children encounter new information, they revise their initial understanding. Adults do this too, but they’re much faster at revising previously held concepts; this could be because they have a larger store of prior knowledge or more experience making rapid revisions in thinking. The World Health Organization states that children do not understand danger in the same way as adults, putting them at greater risk if they do not remove themselves from risky situations.

About the Author

Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.